xidingiłq’oyh | catalyze

More Than Merely Profit

ANCSA-created corporations invest in the seafood industry with an eye on shareholders and stewardship
By Richard Perry (Yup’ik/Athabascan)
boats on Bristol Bay
Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association supports sound science to ensure the sustainability of “a biologically and economically healthy and productive commercial fishery.”
Photo courtesy of Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association
F

or Alaska Native corporations (ANCs), developing seafood interests means more than merely making profit; they seek to benefit shareholders and descendants in other ways.

For Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) and Sealaska, holdings in the seafood industry provide many benefits to their shareholders and descendants. The profits of these business lines offer opportunities for shareholders and descendants such as job search and employment placement assistance, higher education and vocational training, and leadership development/management training programs, to name a few.

The seafood industry is an essential holding for many ANCs as it is an integral part of a diverse portfolio of investments and other business ventures.

But while interests in the fishing industry have long-term potential, year over year the risks and benefits can vary significantly.

In the August 2021 Alaska Economic Trends article “The Pandemic and Jobs by Area,” Neil Fried notes that Alaska’s fishing industry is an essential economic driver, although it continues to be volatile. With the COVID-19 pandemic, rising sea levels, and rising temperatures, the fishing industry remains vigilant in adapting and appraising data as they navigate each fishing season.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation

BBNC is the largest long line Alaska cod quota owner—controlling 37.44 percent of the total freezer longline catcher processor cod allocation.

Bristol Bay Seafood Investments (BBSI) is one of BBNC’s five business lines.

“BBNC acquired Blue North Fisheries and Clipper Seafoods in September 2019 and organized the two companies under the banner of Bristol Wave Seafoods,” says BBSI Senior Vice President Everette Anderson. “As part of the transaction, BBNC also created BBSI to serve as a holding company for Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods and any future seafood investments.

“Bristol Wave Seafoods is our harvesting company, fleet, and primary processor of longline caught cod in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska,” Anderson says.

Bristol Wave employs up to 150 people each season for harvesting and vessel needs.

Anderson, a BBNC shareholder and previous BBNC board member (elected in 2013) was hired at BBSI in January 2020. Having decades of experience in the seafood industry, Anderson was brought in to BBSI to expand the Alaska seafood market.

BBNC and BBSI embrace sophisticated innovations. “I expect that with the advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence, we will be able to work toward ensuring sustainable fisheries, healthy ecosystems, and clean water,” Anderson says. “We’re leading in the use and implementation of advanced science to ensure that we continue to uphold our stewardship responsibilities to our land, water, and air. Just as our Ancestors did thousands of years before us.”

Sealaska’s goals include understanding and protecting oceans and marine environments
Aquaculture has been seeing growth in Alaska for several years
Production of shellfish such as oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops
Sealaska’s goals include understanding and protecting oceans and marine environments. Aquaculture has been seeing growth in Alaska for several years, including additional production of shellfish such as oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops.
photoS courtesy of SEALASKA
Blending Alaska Native traditions and cultural ways with science, BBNC and BBSI endeavor to identify areas of opportunity in the seafood industry to ensure that target investments remain for generations to come.

The responsibility to protect the marine environment for future generations is an enormous task. Global wild capture fisheries face challenging times, and BBSI is positioned to work on solutions to protect its interests.

“The future of BBSI is slated for growth in a methodical and calculated manner in order to ensure it is providing opportunities for its shareholders and enhancing BBNC’s financial strength,” Anderson says. “At BBNC, we convert our success into benefits to our shareholders. Since our inception in 1972, we’ve paid more than $180 million in shareholder distributions. But our commitment to enhance the lives of our shareholders is more than financial. Through a range of employment, education, and training opportunities, BBNC’s Shareholder Development Department works to encourage personal and professional growth and success within our shareholder community.”

Looking to the future, on September 1 BBNC announced its participation in Bristol Bay Wild Market, an exclusive seafood marketplace inside the Climate Pledge Arena, which is a multi-purpose arena in Seattle located north of the downtown area.

The Bristol Bay Wild Market is a collaboration between BBNC, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA), and Bristol Wild Seafood Company: three organizations rooted in Alaska to bring wild Alaska seafood to millions of arena visitors.

‘We believe that to save our oceans, we must depend on them.’
Matt Carle, Sealaska
“The goal of BBRSDA is to ensure long-term success of the world’s largest and most valuable salmon fishery,” BBRSDA Executive Director Andy Wink says. “This new marketplace is not only the perfect opportunity to share the stories of our fleet and organization but also to give more people the chance to experience the benefits of their hard work.”

While promotion of wild Bristol Bay sockeye salmon and pacific cod connects these partners, the preservation of Alaska marine habitats and culture unites them.

BBNC and BBSI are not alone in the ANCSA corporations operating in Alaska and beyond. Innovation in the seafood industry also includes aquaculture, which has seen new ventures into aquatic plants like kelp, seaweed, and shellfish such as oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops.

Sealaska

Sealaska is in the Southeast region and is also one of the twelve regional for-profit organizations created by ANCSA. Sealaska, with 23,000 shareholders, includes Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people with more than 10,000 years of ancestral ties to land and oceans.

Matt Carle, the senior director of corporate communications at Sealaska, provided written comments on Sealaska’s approach and plans.

“Our path forward involves investing in endeavors that contribute to health and balance for lands and oceans and address the inevitable impacts of climate change,” Carle writes. “We owe it to future generations to do this. This philosophy has inspired us to become an ocean-sciences company with growing capabilities to feed people well, clean up man-made messes, generate clean energy, and build thriving communities.”

As agriculture and aquaculture are expanding in Alaska, new opportunities driven by technologies and new harvesting methods have developed for producing food. Sealaska is focused on low-impact food production, and that includes investing in a kelp-based food company.

Barnacle Foods produces food with a zero-input crop, meaning that it requires no arable land or fresh water to grow. The company uses resources more efficiently and keeps greater value locally by manufacturing products close to where ingredients are sourced.

“This is a great example that aligns beautifully with Sealaska’s ideas,” Carle writes. “That’s why Sealaska invested in the Juneau-based company in 2020. We believe that to save our oceans, we must depend on them. This forces us to steward our oceans sustainably, using a fraction of the carbon and freshwater required to eat beef and other land-based proteins.”

Also in 2020, Sealaska brought New England Seafood International into its family of businesses. New England Seafood International represents the organization’s values on a global scale and enables Sealaska to influence change and affect the factors that matter most to the long-term health of the seafood industry and the oceans.

“Enormous social, environmental, and economic value is possible when strong, like-minded organizations join forces across the world to make a bigger difference,” Sealaska COO Terry Downes said in a statement about the acquisition last summer. “Solving our most pressing problems requires working together with a global mindset.”

Sealaska invested in Barnacle Foods, a kelp-based food production company
Sealaska invested in Barnacle Foods, a kelp-based food production company, in 2020.
photo courtesy of SEALASKA
Sealaska’s goals include understanding and protecting the oceans. Gregg Drilling became a part of Sealaska in 2018 and is tasked with diagnosing and addressing many of the threats to the oceans.

Gregg is a leading marine drilling and geotechnical services company headquartered in Southern California. It specializes in remote geotechnical operations, including using seafloor drills and cone-penetration testing that it pioneered to collect essential data for underwater projects such as siting anchors for wind turbines.

Gregg has a drilling rig, about the size of a shipping container, that can be operated from anywhere in the world. Another example of a recent innovation is synthesized hagfish slime, a sustainable alternative to standard drilling polymers.

Hagfish are primitive, eel-like creatures that live on the ocean floor. When attacked, they produce slime, which, when combined with seawater, is a powerful defense against predators.

Sealaska also aims to move to clean energy, finding ways to replace the hydrocarbon-based energy infrastructure. Two growing alternatives are offshore wind and tidal turbine energy generation.

“Sealaska has been intentionally building its capacity to support projects such as marine construction and deep-water soil sampling,” Carle writes. “We are committed to keeping our water clean. This includes using emerging tools that are safer, better for the environment, and ultimately less expensive than traditional approaches. This has the potential to expand to many other parts of the country and the world.”

Sealaska has also built a data management and analytics function with Cognitell, which is key to developing operational and strategic decision-making. This is done by applying data and analytic functions using the latest innovations of artificial intelligence.

ANCSA Benefits

Sealaska and BBNC invest in for-profit ventures as well as culture, revitalizing Indigenous languages, education, and economic opportunities for their shareholders and descendants.

These organizations seek to innovate as well as perpetuate centuries of wisdom that supports Alaska Native people and communities for countless generations with these efforts. The stewardship of the land and the oceans honors the balance their Ancestors realized for millennia.

The business success as well as other opportunities available with these organizations directly benefits their shareholders and descendants to ensure that generations to come may enjoy the bounty nature has to offer.

Richard Perry (Yup’ik/Athabascan) is writer and playwright with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Richard can be reached at [email protected]. 

This article first appeared in the October 2021 issue of Alaska Business Monthly. https://www.akbizmag.com.