Hooked Up for Success

Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods is a new name in the Bering Sea longline cod fishery, but as it combines the experience, resources, and longevity of the established Clipper Seafoods and Blue North fisheries, this company has everything it needs to be a frontrunner.

Newly established Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods is a subsidiary of Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), a company – with 10,000 shareholders connected to the traditional lands – which is focused on global opportunities for growth, including a reentry into the fishery through Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods.

BBNC was involved in the seafood market in the 1980s with Peter Pan, which it later divested. Now, with Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods, and with the combined fishing quotas of the Clipper Seafoods and Blue North, it is set to account for 37.5 percent of the freezer longline cooperative and holds one-quarter of the available cod quota in the Bering Sea.

The deal not only promises value for BBNC’s shareholders, it will have a positive economic impact for the entire state of Alaska, which correlates directly with its mission to find growth opportunities guided by heritage and the reverence for the lands that has long sustained the people of the Bristol Bay region.

As David Little, CEO of Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods, previously president of Clipper Seafoods explained of the sale to BBNC, “At the end of the day, that’s as good a place as any for fishing rights in Alaska to be. It’s probably better that they end up with a native corporation instead of a private equity group.” BBNC’s entrenched commitment to sustainability and profitability clearly seems to confirm this.

The sum of the parts
Clipper Seafoods and Blue North will be integrated under the Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods name, growing the existing synergies between the two. While both companies evolved quite differently, they are complementary to one another and will combine to make more than the sum of the parts.

The plan is to establish a temporary headquarters for Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods headquarters in the existing Clipper Seafoods operation until a new location is secured in the Seattle area. In the meantime, renovations will take place to make room for the consolidation.

From there, the company will continue with what has made Clipper Seafoods and Blue North successful over decades – focusing on innovation, on a shared commitment to sustainability, and on operational efficiencies needed to compete as a major player in the Bering Sea longline fishery.

“That’s the reason we operate in a hook-and-line fishery catching one fish at a time, because we believe strongly that hook-and-line fishing is one of the most, if not the most sustainable fishing methods in the world. If you look at the collapse of fisheries around the world, they’re almost always because of trawling, not because of hook-and-line fishing,” said Little.

Blue North and Clipper Seafoods have both long complied with fishing quotas, participating as part of a fishing co-operative whereby all parties agree to fish only what scientists deem to be the harvest limit, so as to preserve the biodiversity of the Pacific Northwest. Bristol Bay will continue to observe this agreement, safeguarding the vital fish populations upon which it depends.

One of a kind
One of the greatest resources Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods has in its insistence on sustainable fishing is the Blue North, a technologically advanced fishing vessel that has revolutionized what is possible out at sea. The result is improvements in both capacity and the ultimate quality of the catch, while still respecting established fishing quotas.

The Blue North is a standout vessel, strategically designed to mitigate bycatch and to enable the release of unwanted fish species with minimal impact to any sea creature. It has also been designed to utilize more of the harvest proteins that otherwise would go to waste, making it a very sustainable operation.

The vessel’s streamlined design, which reduces both wind and water resistance, enables it to run on less fuel and thus also reduce emissions, making it truly one of a kind in its fishery. It was created with crew comfort and safety in mind.

Consumer products like boneless cod and cod loin can be processed at sea, as the vessel is equipped with automated systems that process, package, and freeze the fish within minutes of catch in a more human way. Not only is the taste, texture, and general quality of the catch enhanced, but vitamins and mineral content are better preserved. Automation has made several processes more efficient, including loading and unloading, which is traditionally highly labor-intensive.

Humane Harvest
Further to its fleet, Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods will continue to adopt and advance the Humane Harvest Initiative™, for which Blue North laid the foundation. The initiative was introduced at the 2014 Seafood Expo North America in Boston and since that time it has had notable success. As a collective entity the new company will be well positioned to increase its impact in this regard.

The Humane Harvest Initiative™ is a theoretical approach and farming practice – backed by scientific research and driven by an ethical commitment. The Initiative regards fish, just like cows and other farmed animals, as sentient creatures (as demonstrated in the research of Dr. Temple Grandin), that should be treated as such.

This approach emphasizes the importance and impact of low-stress harvesting methods. The internal design of The Blue North facilitates the immediate stunning or immobilization of fish as they’re caught, putting their central nervous systems to sleep before processing to reduce to the minimum any pain and stress. This, too, improves the quality of the final product, including producing fillets with better nutritional value and longer shelf lives.

What chefs want
And for discerning chefs and consumers who demand quality and desire wild-caught, sustainable seafood, the Human Harvest Initiative™ is proving itself to satisfy that demand, leading to a greater penetration of the U.S. market, and not just in the Seattle area.

“We’re still very bullish on the Humane Harvest™ aspect of the company, moving forward, and we’ll be able to dedicate more time and efforts to promote that. That’s part of the beauty of the merger, quite frankly, so we’re going to really target that and expand our markets, particularly the U.S.,” says Mike Burns, chairman of Bristol Bay Alaska Seafood and co-founder of Blue North, which he established together with his brother, Pat Burns.

Burns highlighted the success the Humane Harvest Initiative™ has had over the last five years. “It’s not a pipe dream, it’s actually happening,” he says. “We have successfully pushed the humanely harvested, once-frozen-at-sea fillets, primarily in the Seattle market.” He notes that the Initiative has been well-received, especially by industry-renowned chefs in the city’s leading seafood restaurants.

Across the States
While the international demand for its products is strong and growing, with the Humane Harvest Initiative™ Bristol Bay is also on course domestically as it breaks into new markets, widening its reach in the United States.

As of now, the transition is still underway as the two companies integrate, but the goal is to grow the business intensively, opening new markets and sectors by building on both companies’ decades of demonstrated success, and of leading in terms of innovation, technology and sustainability. Bristol Bay plans simply to take a very old industry and continue to improve the value of the enterprise into the 21st century, bringing the ownership back to Alaska and Alaskans.”

Future seafood acquisitions will fall under Bristol Bay Seafood Investments, but for the time being, the focus will remain on integrating what was Clipper Seafoods and Blue North, each a pioneer in the Pacific Northwest fishery.

Fishing future
To sum up, under the new Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods name – and backed by BBNC – the company will continue to innovate, adopt leading practices and technologies, and build on the respective strengths of each of the partners.

“The merger positions this new company to better face the challenges that are going to come at us in the twenty-first century,” says Burns. It’s clear that Clippers Seafoods and Blue North are hooked up for success under the Bristol Bay name.

“The companies were founded years ago in a totally different fishery than we are involved in now,” says Burns, “so it just makes sense to put these two companies together, and together we can go into the future much stronger and much more able to withstand the ups and downs of the market.”

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