King Cove

by Mike Hagler

July 9, 2007

Kia Ora friends,

The Esperanza set sail from King Cove this afternoon, after spending an engaging couple of days and a night in what I can best describe as a place of stark contrasts.   Once again, we sailed into a place of wondrous natural beauty as we’ve encountered in other stops along our journey, only to drop anchor in front of a sprawling fish factory complex.   Peter Pan Seafoods harvests, processes, and markets fish and shellfish pulled from Alaska’s waters. It cans and freezes cod, crab, halibut, salmon, pollock, and manufactures surimi for the US retail and foodservice industries.   Peter Pan products also find their way to global markets in Europe, Asia, even Australia and New Zealand, sold under various brand names.  Here we were on a tour of the plant that’s been here since the dawn of the 20th century watching endless slaps of dead salmon being chopped, minced and diced, and stuffed into cans, loaded onto pallets destined for far-flung markets all over the planet.    Seems the salmon don’t stop migrating, even after they’ve been pulled from the ocean.

Peter Pan Seafoods is a subsidiary of the Japanese Nichiro Corporation, Japan’s third largest sefood company and, historically,  one of  Japan’s largest whaling companies.  Nichiro, along with four other big Japanese seafood companies, direcltly supported the Japanese "scientific" whaling program in the Southern Ocean until recently.   After deciding that a consumer backlash from anti-whaling seafood consumers around the world might put a dent in their corporate bottom line, the companies pulled a little jiggery pokery and offloaded their shares in the whaling operation to various other Japanese foundations, thereby absolving themselves of any direct links.   Nichiro is now looking to a merger with another of Japan’s seafood titans – Maruha Corporation in a move that some observers say will set up a megalopoly over the Bering Sea.   A worry is that Maruha, once it swallows up the smaller Nichiro, might consolidate processing plants and/or ships through the Bering Sea off Alaska. That would be a big concern for fishermen and port towns highly dependent on the sea for livelihoods, including the fishers in most of the small villages we’ve visited so far.

So here we are, the crew of the Esperanza amidst all this natural splenour that surrounds the Bering Sea and I come to the stark realisation that the place that once belonged to the so-called "native people" of this sea — the First People of Alaska — is now just another ecosystem to plunder for profit by corporations located in some distant land with tentacles that touch every ocean and sea on Earth.

The fate of our oceans and all their biodiversity lies in the hands of corporate shareholders and boards whose sole purpose is to convert fish to cash with ever increasing, deadly  efficiency.   The fishers and people of coastal communities that border this vast sea have little or no say, trying just to scratch out a living; some simply just trying to subsist.  The corporate factory trawlers and bottom trawlers rule the ecosystem.   The local fishers from the communities arrive with their day’s catch at the docks of Peter Pan or Trident and other multinational conglomerates running the show here, cap in hand, hoping they’ll be paid enough by these lords of the sea to pay for their fuel costs and the crew.  70 cents a pound for salmon paid to the boats, but it has to be delivered to the dock boys!

The local communities in these parts have become serfs in a modern-day fuedal system.

So, what of the future of our children? I heard one native community elder of King Cove ask this morning in the meeting we had with tribal representatives.  Greenpeace is here to listen to their concerns and see where common ground lies between us.   So they’re talking about those concerns and one old fella who’s fished for 55 years, but now retired, is clearly perplexed. It just isn’t like it used to be anymore, he complains.   It’s tough enough even just to catch enough salmon at times to feed the grandkids, let alone make a dollars-and-cents living.    The world of corporatised control over our oceans and fishing lies light years from his experience.

The people here have a tradition that, when they’re making big decisions with future implications, they ponder first on what effect their decisions could have on seven generations of children further down the line.    Seven generations?    Do you think corporate tycoons behind the proposed Maruha/Nichiro merger are taking into account intergenerational equity seven generations down the line?    

So the next time you rip open a can of salmon, ready to taste that first succulent morsel, pause a moment to reflect on how it got to be right there in front of you.  Think not just about the four or five bucks you shelled out for its purchase, but reflect for a moment, almost as if in prayer, as Alaska’s first people do here, contemplating the true cost of that can of salmon on our kids seven generations into the future.  Or do we still remember how to do that?

From the Esperanza on our way to our next stop at Akutan

Mike Hagler
Oceans Campaigner
Greenpeace New Zealand

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