Sandro Lane is the President of Taku smokeries and Taku fisheries in Juneau, Alaska.


How is the salmon fishery in Alaska doing from your point of view as a processor?

Business is good from our perspective. A lot of fish coming in and stocks look pretty healthy and there’s record run every year. So our production and our business is doing good and going up.

Aside from the fact that you run a lean ship, in terms of how the fishery is managed, why do you think that there is plenty of resource?

I think that the main reason for that is that the fisheries are well managed. The state has decided long ago that it needed to invest in its resources — its fishery resources — whether it be halibut, black cod, or salmon. And that investment is definitely paying off now given that in the last ten years six or seven of them have been record returns, providing a lot of fish for the fishermen and the processors and it appears that it will continue to rise. And this year is no exception. We are having tremendous returns of chump salmon and the market seems to be pretty strong for it — or at least growing and it’s making for good business for us. I think the state has done the right thing by investing in management and understanding the watersheds and protecting its watersheds so that these fish can have a chance to go out to the ocean and come back to a clean and healthy environment so they can reproduce. That’s really the key.

How important is that from an economic point of view, for you and for others in Juneau and in other places?

Juneau — that’s a tough question. Juneau has several different things going on — tourism being on of em. But fisheries also. It’s very important. For me it’s critical that the state continue to manage. Without their involvement and without you know, real protective and conservative management measures, we wouldn’t have a business. So. It’s essential. And in terms of the economy here in Juneau, we’re one of the larger employers here in town and we’re an exporter so we bring in revenues and economies from outside of the state rather than just recirculating dollars within the state. So it’s an impetus of new growth. And I think it’s critical — for Juneau and for the state.

Can you talk a little bit about where you’re selling your fish?

Well it depends on which fish you’re talking about. The halibut that you just saw being unloaded, that’s predominantly a US continental marketplace for us, so that mostly stays in the US, some of it goes to Canada. They’re big consumers of halibut. But the salmon is a little different story. It’s predominantly an export. We go to Europe with a lot of the frozen salmon and we go to the Asian markets with quite a bit of it. It just depends on which species. They have different niches. The U.S. market does take quite a bit of the chump salmon on the fresh and the frozen level. But, that’s been heavily impacted by farmed salmon producing countries and imports of farmed salmon. That have made it real hard for us to compete there, and it’s driven the prices down.

But there is a trend, you know, all of in the industry feel it and a have been thinking about it for a number of years, you know the resource that we have here being produced by nature and not being sustained artificially is having some kind of a eventual market recognition and therefore a potentially advantage financially, although financially we haven’t seen that, but at least socially and, mentally we’ve seen a shift towards people wanting to know where the fish they are eating is coming from and whether it’s hostile or neutral to the environment I guess is the way to put it. And there’s a lot of literature and a lot of information being dispersed at this time. And it’s changing now, as we speak, as far as I can see, in the marketplace, people’s attitudes towards where the fish is coming from.

What’s your take on farmed salmon? Do you have any concerns as a processor on this part of the industry?

The state passed a law pretty clearly a number of years ago that salmon farming wasn’t welcome here. I personally think that they did the right thing because I don’t know if we would have ever been able to compete with the other countries that are way ahead of us in the salmon farming game. And with the cost of labor and the cost and the remoteness of getting product to market from Alaska, puts us at a little bit of an economic disadvantage to the other countries that are farming salmon — like Norway, which is linked by truck to all of the major European metropolitan areas and we have to put everything either in airplanes or containers to try to get it to market quick, which is a cost that other countries wouldn’t face.

And the farm salmon industry has demonstrated that fish do escape the pens. The fish do spawn with wild fish, which can cause problems. In that sense, I think we have done a great service to the wild salmon in this state by not allowing that farming to take place and not allowing our gene pool to become deteriorated in any way, and same thing with our environment of spawning. I think it will pay off in the long run, whether it pays off in the short run, I don’t know, but in the long run I know it will.

Could you speak to the health of the halibut industry?

I think the halibut fishery in the northwest is another example of an extremely well and closely managed fishery. It used to be fished on a very short opening basis back in the 70’s and 80’s. With one day of fisheries given and then a tally is taken to see how much was caught and then other fisheries based on total quota. Today that’s been shifted to what they call an IFQ, individual fishery quota management which has really done well in terms of the federal government’s ability to manage the catch and allowing enough to remain to continue to produce a healthy stock.

Right now we’re in a little bit of a down cycle. Quotas have been lowered about 15% last year and it looks like another 15-20% this year because the indicators from the test fisheries are that recruitment is down a little bit so better ease off on the pressure. Makes it difficult for the buyers and the customers in the marketplace because 20% of a 30 million-40 million pound quota is 8 million pounds of fish. And it’s 8 million less for the market. But ten years from now, it’ll be more. You know, and that’s the way you manage this fishery. So it’s more of a long term vision — rather than pull it all out of the water. And the fishermen here recognize that as well, as well as the buyers, and the processors — that you have to make concessions on the short term for an ultimate, healthy, and long term. Viable business.