Traditionally, catching and processing have been two separate business sectors. Most small to mid-scale fishing vessels in Alaska are owner operated "wet fish" vessels - that is, they catch fish and deliver raw to a processing facility under entirely separate ownership. This is quite often an entirely satisfactory arrangement. It allows the fisherman to concentrate on catching.
However, the business climate is changing rapidly. Some processors are going out of business. Others are putting fishermen on limits, or shortening the list of fishermen from whom they will buy. Dock prices recently plummeted and are only beginning to recover. On the positive side, improvements in logistics, the emergence of the internet as a selling tool, and generally strong retail-level markets have created opportunities for innovative direct marketing. This has prompted many fishermen to examine the potential for direct marketing some or all of their fish catches. This segment of the processing sector carries tremendous energy and innovation. Many of the major American fish processors started out as fishermen and our future industry leaders could well be among the ranks of today's small-scale direct marketers.
One of the benefits of processing and marketing one's own catch is the ability to sell to buyers high in the production chain by bypassing costly middlemen, (processors, wholesalers, etc.). Direct marketers can cater to niche markets with their small-scale operations, high value product and compelling stories. With that said, it is also recognized that avoiding the "middleman" means greater duties and responsibilities.
The Office of Fisheries Developments takes part in a number of efforts underway to support direct marketing. These include provision of market and technical information, support for marketing education/seminars, advice and support in obtaining funding from federal and other sources and participation in a value-added marketing grant program that ended in 2002. OFD also periodically coordinates direct marketing seminars for interested fishermen and is currently developing a joint program with the University's Marine Advisory Program. This latter project will provide improved business start-up and technical information for direct marketers, be they fishermen retailing directly from their boats, small-scale catcher processors, or operators of "mini" processing plants onshore.
For more information on direct marketing, read the Alaska Fisherman's Direct Marketing Manual.
The Department of Revenue Tax Division issues Fisheries Business Licences and the Department of Fish and Game Division of Commercial Fisheries requires Intent to Operate applications. The application for both the license and the Intent to Operate is here.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s “Seafood Processing Application” is available online.
You may also wish to study the recovery and yield rates for the species you’re interested in processing.
If you’re looking for a direct marketer in Alaska, the map below contains contact information and locations for most licensed catcher-processors in Alaska in 2003. Updated lists are available at Department of Environmental Conservation's website.
Toll Free Hotline 1-800-478-5626 within Alaska