Our Seafood Producers Cooperative was recently featured at The 2018 Food & Farm Film Fest in San Francisco. We presented a film about our producer-owned co-op, and the wild salmon our producers catch “Tasting Wild Alaska” directed by Sitka’s Liz MacKenzie. We also enjoyed some other wonderful films that displayed the intersection of art and food.
The sold-out Roxie Theater was packed and bristling with energy. The funds raised by the Festival support Cooking Matters, a program that teaches low-income families how to shop for and cook delicious, healthy food.
Attending the festival for us was a reminder that food stories are people stories. Food and the people who produce and cook food are driven by love and passion.
We really admired James Q. Chan’s “Bloodline,” a film about Top Chef Tu David Phu and the story behind his family’s culinary legacy, their lives as refugees from Vietnam, and how his parents taught him the secrets of fish and influenced Chef Tu to become who he is today.
Through the camera lens of filmmaker Liza Mosquito deGuia we met Tommaso Conte, chef and founder of D’Abruzzo, an award-winning New York City food vendor specializing in Abruzzese cuisine from Italy. Conte’s passion is the same passion that our seafood producers bring when they are fishing and taking the extra time and work into producing a spectacular fish for your plate.
“Great! Lakes,” a film about a family-run small scale candy maker in Knife River, Minnesota depicts the craft of making memorable and special food by a family that stays authentic to who they are. We had some of their candy at the after-party and it was to die for.
These were just a taste of the films we saw at the festival. Going to the festival was a reminder to share more of our producers’ stories with you. Which we will. Stay tuned. And thanks for following our stories and supporting our organization.
Alaska Gold Seafood starts with quality and integrity.
The quality comes from impeccable standards; the integrity from being a fishermen-owned cooperative.
Seafood Producers Cooperative is a beacon of high ideals in the seafood world.
We define quality as delivering precisely what we have promised reliably and without drama. And, for us, it goes a bit deeper. Quality means something truly special that you wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. It’s the uniqueness of each fish and the pride we take not only on the boat in handling but in getting our fish to customers. Our tradition of quality also hinges on serving the greater good by being stewards of the resource so that future generations of fishermen can deliver quality seafood.
Our Alaska Gold retail website is our fishermen’s connection to those who enjoy the fish we catch: chefs at home and in professional kitchens who know that working with high-quality wild seafood is as good as it gets.
What Alaska Gold Seafood does best and what sets us apart is our line-caught wild salmon. Caught One Hook One Fish At A Time, our Alaska Gold coho salmon is mild in flavor and pairs well with lots of recipes. Our king salmon is richer and more decadent. Our sablefish is what high-end restaurants and fancy digs in New York City or Seattle and those who want to cook like them seek. And our halibut is a classic favorite seafood meal. We’ve long been getting requests for our gourmet canned tuna. And we’ve just started making a canned ivory king salmon. We’re known for our careful attention to detail on the boat which extends all the way to how we treat our customers.
Quality and integrity is who we are. We’re also down to earth. We’re realists. We’re straight shooters. By definition, fishermen own and operate the business and we work using open, transparent democratic principles. This is the sign that hangs at the door of our plant. We are a we-oriented company, not a me-oriented company
“I’ve combined fishing and art for over 40 years. Some years, the painting is better than the fishing and other years the fishing is better than the painting, but in the end, fishing has been a way for me to support my art,” says Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC) member Stephen Lawrie.
Stephen ended up fishing “by chance.” He was drawn to Alaska for the adventure and worked as a laborer but saw people that were making money fishing. 40 years ago, he bought a hand troller and started trolling by hand. Like most of our SPC members, who start very small with the hand trolling boats, Stephen slowly made the progression to a bigger power trolling boat. (Rather than “reel in” the salmon—along with the 40-pound cannonball weights—with hydraulic-powered lines, hand trollers use their arm strength. Needless to say, hand trollers get big biceps, but fatigue after a summer of hauling in big king salmon and feisty coho salmon, and the progression to power trolling becomes a necessity for most.)
Fishing has been a way for Stephen to support his art because he mainly fishes during the summer season. A lot of our SPC members also fish for king salmon during the winter and spring seasons, but being mainly a summer salmon fisherman has given Stephen time to paint and perform art installations. Fishing has never been a focus for Stephen’s art. But a lot of his work encompasses portraits, and Sitka fishermen are featured in that work, along with the other faces of Sitka, a fishing town and home of SPC.
As is the case with many other SPC members, the ideas of fishing and being co-op members become multi-generational. His eldest son also fishes for salmon and is an SPC owner/member, just like his youngest son and son-in-law. “The kids started off fooling around on the boat. Then they become deck hands. They become teenagers and just don’t like working on the boat. Then they go off and buy boats and live the fishing life. Now, they’re real go-getters and catch a lot more fish than me.”
When Stephen started, he began from scratch. Recalling his early days, with a few other SPC members who were also just beginning to learn the trade, he says, “We knew nothing. We didn’t even know how to set our own gear. I lost 3 skiffs in a single summer because I didn’t know how to attach the thing to my boat. If we caught 18 salmon in a day, we were over the moon.” He recalls another old time SPC member with more experience, Toivo Andersen, whose son Alan is now an SPC board member, towing a buddy’s boat all over Southeast Alaska one summer because it constantly broke down and required rescuing.
Truly, trolling for salmon is a way that a number of artist/bohemians get started fishing for a living in Southeast Alaska, and there is a steep learning curve filled with adventure and just getting by on a shoestring.
Like several other SPC members, Stephen came to Alaska from New Zealand. There seems to be an Alaska-New Zealand connection and, in particular, a Tlingit-Maori association. Maoris are the natives of New Zealand and Tlingits are a group of indigenous people from what is now Southeast Alaska (and the numerous islands of the archipelago that both makes up and neighbors Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia).
Stephen’s most recent installation highlights the cooperation between the Alaska natives and the Maori. This piece, “Resurrection Koru,” has as its theme the forest fires of the Mat-Su Valley in Alaska. The Koru, a Maori symbol, is a fiddlehead (the unfurled fronds of a fern that appear early in spring in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the more temperate parts of New Zealand). For the Maori, the Koru means unity, strength, regrowth (like an unfurling frond), and inner spiritual strength. Pipes, in multiple colors, representing the various stages of a forest fire, curl into a Koru, which symbolizes the solidarity between the natives of both Alaska and New Zealand.
The Pacific peoples arrived on the Northwest Coast by double-hulled canoe, navigating by the stars, flight of migratory birds and seasonal winds and ocean currents. It is told that 3 Maori followed the powerful trade winds northward and found themselves for 3 years with the Nuu-cha-nulth on the Pacific Northwest coast waiting for the winds to reverse. They were sent off with 3 Nuu-cha-nulth wives forming a bond that still exists to this day. 8000 miles apart, at polar extremes of the planet, they maintain a close friendship to participate in each others’ ceremonies. The sea is the connection between the Maori and Alaskan natives—their genealogies are linked to the mountains, rivers and land formations. Both are geographically isolated with more abundant food supply, that allowed them a more permanent settlements. Both of their histories are carved in wood in similar ways. Stephen links these two rich cultures, illustrating that what unites us is stronger than the distance between us.
As a Kiwi, Stephen makes a striking observation about Alaska seafood in comparison to commercial fishing in other international places. “When I go to other countries, it always strikes me how Alaska does a really good job managing fisheries. Alaska Fish and Game deserves some serious kudos. The scientists and fisheries managers that they hire are very conscientious. They carry out their research very seriously and strictly apply science-based rules that fishermen follow without question. As fishermen, we like to complain sometimes, but they really get it right in terms of managing the fisheries for the future.” What’s also special about the Seafood Producers Cooperative fleet and trollers in general, Stephen says, is that “we play by the same rules…we respect what we have because we also want it managed for the future.”
Seafood Producers Cooperative is, as our name suggests, a producers co-op. Which means that we’re owned and operated by fishermen. As owners, the fishermen are our shareholders. They call the shots. They vote on board members. (We have a board of directors made up of 12 fishermen/members democratically elected by their fellow co-op members.) They’re not at the whims of absentee shareholders. It’s the fishermen’s organization! As owners, fishermen also take a tremendous amount of pride in the fish they catch and how it gets to our customers. When you ask a fisherman what they like about being a fisherman, most will tell you that they like being their own boss. As owners of the co-op, they are the boss of a larger organization. That’s pretty powerful…
We all want artisan quality food grown on a small scale, handled with personal attention from the pasture, field or ocean to our plate.
Great producers spend their time in the field, not by the phone, reaching out to new distributors. Great producers, who understand their craft, all the fine details that go into making a perfect peach, for example, can sometimes make great business-people. It happens but it’s so rare that a farmer can maintain focus on all the disciplines involved in being both a businessperson and a food producer. It’s difficult to achieve a connection with the land or ocean when you’re in an office and vice versa.
When there is success with the business side of things, outside interests get involved. An investor reaps the benefits from a cash-strapped producer who needed a loan to make the big push toward notoriety.
When a fisherman tries to sell fish on his own, he faces three problems: Who does he get to process and package his fish? How does he get enough volume to scale so that his potential customers can rely on him always having enough to sell? How can he get enough money to solve the first two problems?
This is where a fishermen’s co-op steps in. A co-op allows a fisherman to do what he does best—catch fish. A co-op can invest in processing and packaging facilities. A co-op can achieve enough scale so that larger customers don’t run dry. A co-op provides a safety net by allowing members to pool together and get things like vessel insurance or big savings on gear purchases.
Co-ops have a unique way of doing business that offer fishermen the best of both worlds, giving them the opportunity to work independently, the way fishermen work best, but while also providing a space for them to pull resources together to achieve a bigger goal.
Producers co-ops make it possible for artisan quality food producers to reach a larger audience. Small scale producers band together, share the burdens of investment in a plant, transportation, marketing, or whatever it is they need to help their product reach an audience large enough so that they can continue their craft. If the co-op has a good year, the profits go to the producers, not to an outside investor or shareholder. In the case of Seafood Producers Cooperative, some 590 small boat hook and line fishermen own the business. They invested in a plant in Sitka that processes and packs their fish, preparing them and keeping them fresh for journeys half way around half the world or just down the street to Ludvig’s Bistro, one of the finest restaurants on the West Coast.
As owners, the fishermen receive the benefit of ownership. Their product reaches a wider market than if they were working on their own. The fishermen have democratic control of the cooperative, voting on key decisions and investments made by the co-op. The fishermen use processing facilities that they own.
Certainly, a number of these fishermen sell directly to a store or restaurant in the town where they winter. They might take the effort to pack some boxes with dry ice and express mail the fish to friends and family or contacts around the country that they’ve gained over years of fishing. Some are very good at selling, delivering to the co-op the fish that they catch that they won’t be able to sell on their own, but still making use of the co-op’s amenities—showers, ice, processing, reduced prices on gear (co-op thinking again here). Another benefit, loan accounts help manage the manic financial ups and downs of the fisherman’s wild year: from 18 hours a day in the summer to the quieter days in winter of maintaining the boat and all the unexpected expenses involved with keeping the boat squeaky clean and operational. A common refrain from fishermen: “Some years we don’t break even until September.”
At the end of the day, the reason we have members who enthusiastically join the co-op is that their fish reaches a larger market than it would if they were working on their own. They get the fairest price for their hard work.
Certainly, many producer co-ops have folded. As it is for any other businesses, failure happens when they lose sight of their mission or do not evolve to fit the times. Another common mistake is to rely too heavily on one stakeholder to make the decisions. In the case of Seafood Producers Cooperative, our Board of Trustees is made up of twelve fishermen. They are advised by our President, a food industry veteran who has worked with well-known food brands, and our Controller, who understands all the vicissitudes of co-op financing because he has lived co-op accounting for many years. Together, they balance interests, both from a fishing and a business perspective, to create a vision and set a strategy to carry out that vision.
Considering that we have 590 fishermen owners, we are pretty lean. Our office staffs only 10 of us. Depending on the season, two or three write up fish tickets, another handles loan accounts and payables, one works to provide vessel insurance and HR, two do most of the selling, and there’s a marketing manager in charge of getting the message out.
By staying lean, we are remarkably focused on our mission. Everybody in the office is loyal to the fishermen, the co-op, and the fish—“It’s the best there is,” you’ll hear from any of us in the office.
Much has been made of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) for fostering that direct connection between farmers and fishermen who fish in sustainable ways with consumers who appreciate quality. And rightfully so. But another way to support the producers that make high quality food is to look for producers co-ops and buy directly from them. Other examples of nationwide producers cooperatives who set the bar for quality while supporting the producer are Organic Valley (aka Cropp Cooperative), Land O’ Lakes and Tillamook Cheese. There are also a number of small scale dairy and meat producers who benefit by being owners of regional or national cooperatives that help get their products to a wider audience more efficiently.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We do everything we can to provide consistent quality to our customers because it’s our company. When you order from our web retail store (www.AlaskaGoldBrand.com), the fish you receive is caught by hardworking Americans earning a living wage. Owned by fishermen, we are 590 small family-run American businesses in one. As a cooperative made up of quality-oriented fishermen that’s been around for over 70 years, our customers know we’re in it for the long haul. Quality is what we hang our hats on and that has kept us here through thick and thin.
When you ask them what they most like about being a fishermen, most say they enjoy the freedom to be your own boss. A co-op lets the fisherman be the boss on their boats and collectively run an organization bigger than they are on their own. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
Our Alaska seafood is caught in the waters off Southeast Alaska by the hard-working fishermen that make up Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC).
Since 1944, SPC has served families of American fishermen who deliver sustainably harvested Alaska seafood to our customers.
Our American heritage gives us our values: hard work, pride in craftsmanship, reliability, integrity, fairness, concern for community and democratic member control. (As a fishermen-owned co-op, all fishermen vote on fishermen board members who make critical decisions.)
Just over 600 fishermen own our cooperative. 397 call Alaska home. 216 have mailing addresses in Sitka. Another 100 winter in Washington state. Other members live in states as diverse as Texas, Vermont and Florida, but fish in Alaska, a state with sustainable seafood written right into the constitution. What unites us is our relentless commitment to quality, dedication to our customers, and an unparalleled pride in workmanship. This is our unique American heritage and what makes our Alaska seafood so special.
Like any story worth telling, it started with a dream.
A $2500 investment and then they were off to go fishing. They were 21 years old, in love, and studying at Western Washington University to become teachers. They’d only known each other for 10 months when they got married.
Kind advice led Jay and Becky Haun to become members of Seafood Producers Cooperative in 1974. Integrity, pride, and the 7 cooperative principles were what guided them, though they didn’t know much about fishermen’s cooperatives when they joined. “There was a certain honesty and humility among co-op members that we appreciated. Others told us that we’d get the fairest price for our fish as cooperative members, so we joined,” Becky tells us. Members until 2011, Jay served as a board member in one way or another with Seafood Producers Cooperative for 24 years (1987-2011). That is true commitment!
What was essential to sticking with the cooperative during those 37 years was a sense of belonging. Co-op members look out for each other, which is important when working on the rough waters around Southeast Alaska.
They might not have had a lot of money during some of the tough years, but they considered themselves rich. They had each other. They were working hard and were satisfied. They raised 2 kids—Ryan and Carie—on the boat.
How does one raise children on a 42-foot boat, you might ask. “You tie them to a line with a carabineer,” Becky tells us. “The kids wore a sailing harness. One end of the rope was attached to the harness that went over the kid’s shoulders and under their crotch. On the back there was a carabineer that hooked to the harness and the other end of that line was tied off on the boom of the boat. They could fall in but only their feet would get wet and we could easily yank them back in. We were on the HELEN HINTON [their boat] when the kids were babies and I can still feel that hollow freaky feeling when I could not see them on the boat. The boat was only 42 feet and looked like a cruiser with lots of windows, so losing sight of one of them was almost impossible. But it happened and of course I panicked. And yet, they never went out of the cabin onto the back deck or float without a life jacket. That became second nature to them. We also gave them swimming lessons at a very early age. We were flexible and made adjustments. We learned a lot together. We learned how to be a family.”
From about fourth grade on, Becky’s dream was to be a teacher. But she hitched her dreams onto Jay’s and followed his dream to be a fisherman. “And history became mine. And people couldn’t believe how strong it made me or how the fishing life became a part of my identity.”
And indeed she has lived that dream. Some people dream of sailing through the Inside Passage just once. Becky has done that close to 80 times. Each year, back and forth, for the nearly 40 years she spent fishing in Alaska with her husband Jay. At first on the HELEN HINTON, but later on the sturdier Cinnabar, now owned by 3-generation co-op member Jaycen Andersen.
As it is for other writers, writing about her life is what helped Becky to make sense of it all.
“Last night at the P-Bar” is a story about missing the girlfriends she had who had a life for themselves on shore. The P-Bar is the fishermen’s bar in Sitka, and an evening there with her girlfriends reminded Becky that her life was on the boat. Fishing. With her husband.
Becky’s story, “A Life is a Promise” is haunting. About a near-death experience near Point Gardner, a treacherous spot on the Inside Passage where the Chatham Strait meets Frederik Sound and small fishing boats are at the mercy of the whim of the wind, tide and currents. Timing is of the essence and a ferocious howling wind could brew up in the snap of some fingers. She was 32 years old, had been married for 11 years and her first thoughts were with her children and then her husband. It was at that moment that she made a deal with God. She would give her life to God in exchange for the lives of her husband and children. When the Hauns made it out of that jam, with the help of another fisherman, Becky kept that promise. She gave her life to God.
In 2000, Becky was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which meant that she and Jay would fish less and less. There was too great a risk of her falling off the boat. As awful as it sounds, though, Parkinson’s “was a blessing in disguise. It gave me a sense of purpose. The miracle is it gave my life back. Now I’m able to focus on what matters. On the relationships I have. I’m able to look back at a life that has been a dream.”
Seafood Producers Cooperative helps fishermen live their dreams. We process the fish of small boat family fishermen and then market that fish for sale on the AlaskaGoldBrand.com website where you can find premium-quality seafood, caught by hard-working American families.
To hear Jay’s wonderful voice introduce Seafood Producers Cooperative, watch the video below.
Living the Dream, A Fishing Family’s Lifestyle, is the story of Jay and Becky Haun and their life fishing together as Seafood Producers Cooperative members. Becky is working on putting her stories together to publish a book on living the fishing lifestyle as a woman and what it’s like to raise kids on a boat.
Seafood Producers Cooperative is made up of over 550 fishermen members, who are the owners of and stakeholders for our cooperative. Many SPC members come from families representing multiple generations with the cooperative.
Our families of fishermen strive to serve your family with the highest quality seafood available.
Over 70 years ago, a group of Alaskan halibut fishermen realized that the best way to ensure that their products were delivered with quality was to process their own fish. They formed what would become North America’s oldest and most successful fishermen’s cooperative. Fishing families representing generations with SPC have prospered by being members of the cooperative and bringing naturally wild seafood to our customers.
Seafood Producers Cooperative is owned by the fishermen, so it’s our organization. As fishermen, we are responsible for the quality and we take great pride in what we do. Owned by fishermen, we have the opportunity to stress quality.
We produce the best Alaskan seafood that you can get. Only a small percentage of Alaskan salmon are caught by trollers using hook and line methods. It’s a boutique fishery. As Lance says, “Like your micro-brews, we’re a micr0-fishery.” Line-caught salmon, the craft beer of seafood. Fish come on board One Fish At A Time. We catch the premier species–king salmon and coho salmon. “White table cloth material.” Fish are landed on deck, pressure-bled using a micro-pipette, gutted, and iced within a half-hour. In contrast, a net-caught salmon might spend hours on deck before being handled.
At the end of the day, a co-op fish comes from fishermen who take pride in quality, because they own the organization.
Lance puts it elegantly: “I get to produce a quality product that is sustainably harvested in a well-manged fishery and belong to a cooperative that is taking care of us and we’re all taking care of each other. We’re all part of it. We are owners of the entire organization cooperatively. No one’s being exploited. We’re making a decent living. And I get to go fishing. What guy doesn’t like to go fishing?”
Seafood Producers Cooperative is a longtime supporter of the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, because they donate all of the salmon served at the annual fundraiser “Salmon At the Bay” each summer.
In an age when 90% of the seafood Americans eat comes from abroad, most of it farmed using dubious labor practices causing environmental havoc, Seafood Producers Cooperative is ruggedly American and has a proud heritage built on 70 years of relentless commitment to high-quality wild fish and responsible stewardship of the ocean.
Owned and operated by small boat hook and line fishermen who fish the waters of the North Pacific for wild salmon, halibut, sablefish and albacore, Seafood Producers Cooperative is a fishermen’s cooperative built on the work of families whose livelihoods depend on the health of our waters. These fishermen are the Eyes of The Ocean. Nobody has a tighter connection to our waters than a hook and line fisherman. They know that fish like salmon are a barometer of the health of our planet. They are also the first to recognize that salmon are nature’s true reward—delicious, with a life story that is inspiring. They know that salmon are worth looking after.
It’s clear that Seafood Producers Cooperative and NSEA share a common mission based on making it possible for people to enjoy the pleasures of eating wild salmon for generations to come, which is why SPC supports NSEA. Most of SPC’s owner/fishermen are family operations. Boats are passed along to sons and daughters over generations. Some SPC members can trace their families’ lineages with the cooperative over four generations. This heritage is important—the owner/members of SPC want their grandchildren to fish the same way that they do, with an eye to the future and a focus on quality.
Seafood Producers Cooperative fishermen like Dick Curran take time to look after the ocean. During the break between fishing the Gulf of Alaska and outfitting for the Chatham black cod fishery, Dick Curran has removed from coastal beaches and waterways nearly 30,000 pounds of plastics and marine debris that would have been harmful to local wildlife. As SPC member Tom Fisher says, “A healthy ocean is healthy for me. We don’t want to damage our livelihoods.”
The cooperative also benefits the fishermen because their fish reach a wider market. SPC black cod is well known by fish buyers around the world as the best black cod available. Seafood Producers Cooperative’s troll-caught Alaska Gold™ salmon is craved by restaurants and retailers around the world because of the meticulous handling procedures our fishermen use to bring the salmon to market. The cooperative’s story and reputation as a source for the highest quality line-caught seafood has been known by fish buyers for a long time. Seafood Producers Cooperative is aiming for end consumers to better know the cooperative and the special fish the cooperative brings to market, so now SPC fish is available for purchase by consumers on SPC’s e-store: www.AlaskaGoldBrand.com. At the site, readers can check out stories from our fishermen, the cooperative’s history, seafood recipes, and purchase SPC’s high-quality fish for delivery anywhere in the country.