Fishermen are used to being rewarded for harvesting the highest volume of fish in a season, but receiving accolades from processors and fellow fishermen for producing the highest quality catch is something new. During the 2012 Prince William Sound salmon season, seafood processors and fishermen collaborated on a new Quality Harvester Rewards Program in order to bring the highest quality salmon to market.
In 2011, facing industry competition and looking for ways to increase the marketability of Prince William Sound salmon, the region’s nine processors worked with fishermen to develop a set of recommended guidelines aimed at improving quality in the fishery. The simple steps include short soak times, proper bleeding and chilling, sanitizing, and careful handling for optimum quality.
The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association coordinated outreach efforts to fishermen, processors and tenders, encouraging quality handling through the entire chain of custody. “We had a successful pilot year of the Quality Guidelines program and were pleased to have input and consensus from all nine processors as well as fishermen,” says marketing association executive director Beth Poole. “In year two, we set out to expand the program to recognize and reward fishermen who were working hard to incorporate the guidelines into their fishing operations.”
Processors tracked the quality efforts of their fleet through the 2012 salmon season and nominated their top and most-improved quality harvesters at the end. Participating processors included: Copper River Seafoods, Great Pacific Seafoods, Snug Harbor Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Peter Pan Seafoods, Prime Select Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Inlet Fish Producers.
Gary Johnson, plant manager of Peter Pan Seafoods says, “The program exceeded my expectations quite a bit…I thought it would take a few years, but it took off almost immediately…The fishermen were dedicated to doing it and we worked hard to do it right. We did pay an incentive to ice the fish and we brought in more insulated totes. It was a challenge at times for the tenders to have as much ice as they wanted, but the ice consumption of the fleet was up substantially. The fish quality was excellent all year. We were really happy with our quality, and there were very few fish we couldn’t fillet... This year, Prince William Sound sockeye was right up there with the best sockeye in the State.”
A group of twenty fishermen were inducted into this year’s class of PWS Quality Harvesters. Each winner received a PWS Quality Harvester jacket and certificate of excellence. Mike Webber, F/V Amulet, received the “Top Quality Harvester Award” from Trident Seafoods and explains, “I think our region has the #1 fish around, so it’s important to keep them that way from the beginning. That means bleeding them while they’re alive and delivering quickly to tenders. I started using slush bags and the quality is the best you can get. This year, my processor reward fishermen for using slush bags. It’s more work for me and my crew than layer icing, but it pays off in the end for all of us. Processors are getting higher quality fish and I get a bonus for each fish.”
Eric Lian, F/V Fine Line, was nominated as Copper River Seafoods’ most improved harvester. “It’s an honor to be nominated and recognized by my processor," he says. "The quality in the sound was vastly improved this year with more ice available and more and more fishermen using slush bags. The Marketing Association is doing a good job supporting fishermen and processors as we all work toward improving quality.”
The cooperative group of processors, fishermen and the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association will meet again this fall to review the season and identify further strategies for continuing to improve quality in Prince William Sound.
2012 PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND QUALITY HARVESTER AWARD WINNERS
TOP QUALITY HARVESTERS:
Dave Aers, F/V Rumpleminze, Homer, AK
Bill Craig, F/V Canvasback, Anchorage, AK
Shane & Ronda Blough, F/V Mayhem II, Hoonah, AK
David Blake, F/V Rocky Point, Marysville, WA
Marty Wise, F/V Kaygan, Homer, AK
Dan Bilderback, F/V Summertime Sage, Anchorage, AK
Bill Lindow, F/V Red Sky, Cordova, AK
Ivan Kasachev, F/V Defiance, Wasilla, AK
Mike Webber, F/V Amulet, Cordova, AK
John Grocott, F/V C-Runner, Ilwago, WA
Bruce Petska, F/V Tazlina, Homer, AK
Eric Harvey, PWS Setnet, Eagle River, AK
MOST IMPROVED QUALITY HARVESTERS:
Eric Lian, F/V Fine Line, Cordova, AK
Jasen Metz, F/V Wanderlust, Homer, AK
Michael Hand, F/V Sprite, Cordova, AK
Richard Wheeler, F/V Camilou, Ardenvoir, WA
Greggor Bosick, F/V Revelation, Kasilov, AK
Scott Thomas, PWS Setnet, Anchorage, AK
Wesley Woods, F/V Albatross, Cordova, AK