AFDF Member Spotlight: Jan Jacobs

Jan JacobsJan Jacobs, Director of Government Affairs
Vital Statistics:
Place of Birth: Van Nuys, California
Family Status: Married 40 years, 2 sons, 3 grandchildren
Degree: BS in Oceanography – Humboldt State University (California)
Employer: American Seafoods since 1989
Occupation: Director of Government Affairs
AFDF Member: 14 years
Jan Jacobs has been an active participant in the seafood industry for more than 20 years. Lodestar caught up with Jan recently in his Seattle office to chat a bit about some issues of interest.
Q: How did you get into the Seafood Industry?
A: Years ago I decided that I wanted a career that I would find exciting and interesting so I went back to school to get a degree in Oceanography. After graduating, and with limited fishery-related opportunities in California, I started my career in fisheries as a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) federal fisheries observer, working on foreign catcher-processors.
Q: And where was this?
A: These boats fished primarily in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and off the coasts of Washington and Oregon. After working as an observer for a year, and now with a family to support, I found out that jobs in the “joint venture” fisheries were much better paying so for the next 4 years I worked as a joint venture representative or JV rep, primarily on Korean and Polish catcher-processors, 6-8 months a year at sea. In 1988, Profish was looking for someone to manage a couple of their catcher boats, a position that was based in their Seattle office, which allowed me to spend more time with my family. So we all packed up and moved to the Seattle area and have been here ever since.
Q: At American Seafoods, how did you get to be a Director of Government Affairs?
A: After working as a vessel manager for American Seafoods from 1989 to 1995, I transitioned into tracking regulatory issues, in response to a variety of escalating problems related to allocations, permits and “fish politics” that required more dedicated focus within our company.
Q: Fish Politics? That’s a great term. What does it all include?
A: Well, it seems that just about anything going on in the fishing industry is “political”, but fish allocations were probably the most contentious and complicated. Other issues included bycatch, discards, gear, time and area restrictions, CDQ partnerships, observer coverage, and fishery policy. Most of these issues are dealt with by the quasi-federal regional fishery management councils and by NMFS.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge for catcher processors in today’s market?
A: I’d say that many of the most serious issues affecting the groundfish fisheries off the coast of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest have been addressed, issues such as overcapitalization, the intense and wasteful Olympic-style, race for fish quota allocation system, bycatch, and discards. I think it’s accurate to say that most people now realize that the fishery management system for the federal fisheries that we participate in are recognized as among the most responsible of any fishery in the world.
One of the major challenges the industry needs to focus on is the market for whitefish products. In this global economy, whitefish seafood products made from fish harvested from wild stocks, like Alaska pollock, Pacific cod and hake compete with farmed fish and other wild stocks, as well as other sources of protein. What we have to offer the consumer is cost-effective, high quality protein that comes from responsibly managed fisheries with a demonstrated track record of being sustainable over the long term.
Q: What else?
A: Bycatch is and will always be something our industry needs to pay attention to, even though, for example fisheries like Alaska pollock and Pacific hake have some of the lowest bycatch rates of any fishery in the world. And I’m confident that industry will continue to support research into effective ways to minimize bycatch, but there are hidden costs to avoiding non-targeted species that need to be evaluated when considering new management measures: unintended consequences such as impacts on other species of fish or habitat, increased fuel costs, and impacts on product quality.
Q: Why is it important for you and American Seafoods to support the efforts of AFDF?
A: We have maintained our membership with AFDF, and I have been on their Board of Directors, since 1997 because we have seen repeatedly that AFDF’s efforts have provided significant benefits to the seafood and fishing industry as a whole, and they deserve our support so they can continue these efforts into the future. Many fishermen and seafood companies have been longtime supporters of AFDF as well but with the decline in recent years of federal funding to support non-profit organizations such as these, to be successful and continue to address the needs of industry we need everyone in the seafood industry to do what they can to support AFDF. This industry has benefited in numerous ways thanks to AFDF.
Q: Such as?
A: Well, there are too many projects to mention here but they are listed on the AFDF website. A few worth mentioning:
– the research efforts that resulted in the ability to produce surimi from fish such as Alaska pollock, which has resulted in significant economic benefits for most everyone involved in these fisheries;
– contracting with the Alaska salmon and cod industry to successfully pursue MSC certification of these fisheries as sustainable and responsibly managed. No small undertaking by the way;
– the Symphony of Seafoods, a great annual event that showcases new seafood products made from Alaska fish.
So we have all benefitted in one way or another from the efforts of AFDF, we just might not all be aware of it.
We agree, Jan. If you interested in being a member of AFDF, please visit www.afdf.org for more information.