Comparison of Russian and American Pollock Fisheries Revealing Large Opportunities for Improvement of Efficiency

February 11, 2011 11:34
Every now and then the Russian fishermen ask themselves why their American counterparts harvest fish and Pollock in particular more efficiently.  The answer is quite simple - the APO fisheries in US and in Russia pursue different goals.  This is the conclusion made by Russian fishery professionals who shared their vision with

Russian companies' target is to exhaust the quota.  Somehow it is supposed that it means reaching maximum economic yield.  Meanwhile some companies haven't got enough vessels, and they have to sell a part of their quota.  The US fishermen target is more straightforward - to earn as much money as possible.  There is no problem to take up the quota as the fishing capacity of any company is large enough for it.  It is actually impossible to overfish - there is a federal inspector near bunkers, he checks all the catch and moves the bycatch to a special bunker with his own hands.

By the way, the fish in this bunker will be paid for by the shipowner, and the fish will be processed by the crew at their expense and passed to the Feds.  Of course, the inspector doesn't look into the bunker hatch, but at the scales which check the entire catch.  To be surely sure that the inspector is diligent, he is controlled by two cameras while the records from them are passed to the shore.  Naturally, the inspectors are paid by the fishermen, and so is all the necessary equipment.

It's worth saying that the inspector is mainly concerned with salmon bycatch as local people really think that Pollock harvesters seriously damage king salmon population.  Salmon bycatch quota is quite strict, and when it is taken the fishing area is closed till the season's end.

In Russia everything is another way round.  Catch is calculated basing on final product using coefficients fixed by authorities.  It looks just like calculating wheat harvest basing on bread production.  It often leads to disputes with the authorities. For example, many Russian fishermen will remember the case when a trawler was arrested for 358 extra grams of pollock roe produced of several thousand metric tons of fish. Surely, this method doesn't make the fishermen improve processing quality and recovery rate.

The main person aboard an American vessel is not the master, but the production manager.  The company's sales department passes him production plan, he calculates and gives the captain an order like "I need 20 tons of fish that size in three hours - go and catch".  The captain goes and catches exactly the necessary amount.  By the way, there are two captains on a large trawler and no mates.  It is all different in Russia.  Ship master there is second to God.  He is responsible for everything aboard, and production manager is just one of his officers.  There are 2-3 mates too.  They work in shift on bridge, and all but master work at the factory too.

The main performance indicators in US are the yield or recovery rate and revenue per ton of catch.  Technologists and sales managers permanently look what to sell.  One of the ideas for 2011 is to sell bones and bonemeal.  The bones had been separated from waste before reduction into fishmeal before - it increased protein and decreased ashes, but the bones had been dumped to the sea.  From now on there will be a small extra income.  Of course, they also utilize cheeks and stomachs.  They however don't produce frozen liver.  It is used for oil production.  As for the Russians - there is no sense to increase utilization, as the catch is calculated by the authorities from the main product volume.

A Russian visiting an American ship will always get an impression of small and highly crowded space.  It is unbelievable how the Americans manage to put four production lines into a middle-size ship and produce simultaneously several kinds of fillet (shatterpack, deepskin, PBO), all LP, surimi, roes (lined as well) milts, fishmeal, fishoil (sometimes medical grade).  To be fair it's worth saying that the Russian BATM class factory trawler is much bigger than any American ship, but it is very complex inside.  Hatches, walls, cabins prevent from laying out the production equipment rationally.  Ceiling on Russian vessels is low, and it makes it difficult to install conveyor belts and pipelines efficiently.

It's necessary to emphasize that all American pollock fishing vessels are really old, almost ancient by Russian standards.  Well, they are really good inside, well looked after, wonderfully maintained, regularly refurbished, but the hull is the same, and no new trawlers are built.  The reason has nothing to do with economic factors. It is actually linked with the fact that the quotas in US are attached to ships.  If a company owns more trawlers than necessary for quota take-up, it's a great problem to transfer the quotas between them.  It's worth saying that even a burnt vessel is not a good reason for quota transfer.  The company has to refurbish the burnt-out hull even if it is more expensive than to build a new trawler.  That's why Americans work at 20 year old ships.

For US fishermen the struggle for money is also a struggle for quality.  The Russian fishermen live mainly on "quick" money received for APO HG, but an American buyer pays to a producer in about two months after receiving the goods and quality check.  There are no discussions on quality, the buyer is really always right.  Two-three QA people work continuously and make checks every 10-15 minutes.  Test results are put into computer network and are available online to a vessel production manager and managers ashore.  Just for comparison - normally at Russian vessels quality check is one of many concerns of a ship supervisor.  He can't arrange that many checks.

American sailors live a hard life.  The must cope with shifts 16/8 hours at the factory, or 12/12 on deck and on the bridge. The accommodations are 5+5 cabins even on large vessels.  However, there are no transshipments at sea as all the cargo is discharged at a berth, so every other week everybody can disembark for a short time.  By the way, they earn not too much.  Calculating per metric ton of product it is even less than their Russian colleagues, though it amounts to more per month.

Really, the question put into the first paragraph (WHY) is not so important.  In practice it is much more interesting HOW to raise the standard of life of Russian fishermen and performance of the Russian Pollock boats to the mark of their American counterparts. This question is really to be answered by every Russian manager.

By the way, a considerable part of American fishing fleet is not efficient.  All the APO TAC could have been taken by catchers-processors, possibly after adding some. However, the government has to fight unemployment and solve social problems.  They give substantial quotas to the small boat fleet that will pass the fish to onshore plants and mother vessels.  Naturally, the share of locals in crews and on the factories is not large, but there is an inflow of new workers and sailors who, charmed with Alaska beauty, come to settle there.

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