Member Spotlight: Ian Fisk

Ian FiskVital Statistics

Age: 41

Place of Birth: Anchorage

Home: Juneau

Family: Wife, Shannen and 2-year old son, Kai. Father, Greg Fisk of Juneau, mother Madeleine Lefebvre of Juneau

Education: Bachelors of Science in Geography, University of Oregon, 1996

Occupation: Tenderman, shrimp catcher-processor, coastal advocate/lobbyist

How did you get involved in the seafood industry? Right after college, my dad got me into a small joint venture along with a company he’d worked for to set up a shrimp trawling catcher processor. I tagged along with him to look at one of the 58’ Deltas that had been purchased by the Mexican government. We went down to Ensenada where I got to practice my Spanish and try ceviche for the first time. We ended up buying the boat, taking it to the Delta yard in Seattle, and we spent a long nine months converting and upgrading it. My first job was to clear out the old mussel shells that somehow had found a way under the galley cupboards and scare a few rats off the boat! When we were done it was a brand new vessel, with major modifications. In the long run the project didn’t work out, but it was a hell of an intro to shipyard work and the fishing industry, and we sure learned a lot.

What fisheries have you been involved in since? In ’98 I worked on the Cape Caution, a Norquest tender/crabber and saw the whole coast in four months from Coos Bay to St. Matthew Island, with many stops in between. The following year I got aboard a local boat, the Steadfast, in Juneau and went seining (skiff man), crabbing, and longlining for black cod and halibut. I bought a small block of halibut when I was still crewing. I drove skiff one season on the Owyhee in 2003, when pinks were down at $.09/lb, but still made good money. Since 2004, I’ve been co-owner of the 56’ Morgan Anne with a friend of mine, and have primarily been skipper for our annual tendering contract with Alaska Glacier Seafoods in Southeast ever since. I’ve also been involved in shrimping for spot prawns with pots since 1999, and have the boat set up as a catcher/processor. I direct market my frozen-at-sea prawns, mostly to local markets. It’s a small fishery, but nonetheless is important to my bottom line.

How did you become interested in the political side of the business? I guess I’ve always thought being politically involved is important. My parents raised me that way. Growing up down the street from the Legislature I always thought maybe I’d work there some day. It’s been since winter of ‘98 that I’ve worked there as a staffer to four different coastal legislators. Eventually I became a lobbyist, working on municipal, hatcheries, and fishing industry issues. It’s completely different from boat work, but it’s been interesting. Like fishing, every year is different. Basically I advocate for things that are important to the coastal economy.

Why are fish politics important to follow? Well, I’d say that its every citizens duty to pay attention, even if it’s not always fun. The system breaks when no one pays attention or takes the time to think about how our regulatory environment should operate. It can be frustrating at times, but think about the alternatives! The seafood industry, and coastal communities that depend on it, need to be organized and should raise their voices. As Alaska changes, we are going to continue to be marginalized if we don’t participate.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the seafood business in Alaska? Fuel dependency and high costs are certainly #1. All the gains we’ve made in marketing can be eaten away by our fuel situation. It’s tough because we’re in such a dependent situation, with no ability to control the costs. Alaska’s fuel situation is upside down. We’re a huge domestic oil supplier, yet we don’t refine it and depend on a goofy transportation system to access the resource. We depend mostly on the oil industry to fund our big projects, like harbors and airports that our businesses depend on. Yet the state takes the oil it owns collectively and allows it to be refined in Washington then shipped back up here. That’s never made any sense, and I think the State got it partially wrong at the beginning of oil development by not insisting on using some of it’s royalty share to supply in-state needs. Now we have unsustainable communities in many places. The industry will be on the edge of profitability if we don’t recognize our dependency.

In terms of marketing, Alaska does a terrific job of generic marketing and we have to continue to support ASMI. Keeping our name at the top of the list requires constant effort. You don’t just build it up and walk away.

So controlling fuel cost and maintaining and enhancing market recognition and price are the keys to profitability in our business as a whole.  Each individual fishery has it’s own challenges with regulations, allocation etc. So it’s important for fishermen and processors to be involved at the micro and macro level when looking into the future of the industry.

How does AFDF fit into the picture? AFDF is a unique organization that I’m proud to have been a part of for ten years. Ideally, we’d have a much bigger budget, and like all non-profits, that’s challenging. What we can do is work on opportunities that individual companies and fishermen either can’t or won’t take on by themselves, and that the government isn’t set up to do. We provide a voice from a cross section of the industry, from the big companies to individual owner/operators. We look to put together projects that can direct the industry towards new opportunities, like making profitable products from seafood processing waste. Right now, focusing on fuel efficiency is one of our biggest areas of interest. There are a lot of ideas out there, and we want to help the industry figure out how to make vessels as cost-efficient as possible. That’s the first step, and the bigger goal should be energy independence for the fleet. I think we have to think big and think long-term. I’d like to see us creating our own sources of biofuel and transitioning away from petroleum in the next 25 years. AFDF is the kind of R&D driven entity that can do that, by putting together the right teams of people to tackle things that can’t be done alone. It’s important that the process be driven by industry.

It starts by looking at Alaska as a Seafood Nation, and comparing our R&D investment to what other nations are doing. We’re behind, and we need to catch up.