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Vol. 13, No. 48 Week of November 30, 2008
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

AK-WA Connection 2008: Carriers join quest for seafood quality

Alaska fishermen who seek fast but less expensive methods for shipping their fresh catch to Lower 48 markets get new options

Rose Ragsdale

For Alaska-Washington Connection

Transportation companies in the Alaska-Washington trade are working to come up with faster and more efficient ways for commercial fishermen to move fresh, wild Alaska seafood to Lower 48 markets. And some carriers are developing innovative strategies for assisting the state’s seafood shippers in their ongoing quest for better production quality.

This year, Saltchuk Resources Inc., parent company of 22 different operating companies, including Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc. and Northern Air Cargo, launched a new service aimed at taking advantage of the various strengths of the businesses grouped under its corporate umbrella.

Instead of transporting fresh fish by air or by ocean, TOTE and NAC have combined their expertise with the help of Alta Air Logistics to create a unique hybrid service.

Family-owned Carlisle Transportation Systems, which specializes in heavy haul trucking services in Alaska, came up with another winning strategy for moving fresh Alaska seafood to the Lower 48 quickly.

Thanks to such innovations, Alaska fishermen who formerly had to make a tradeoff between slow or pricey can now ship their fresh catch using a third, perhaps, more desirable option.

Hybrid shipping makes inroads

Saltchuk’s service got its start March 29 when NAC flew 27,600 pounds of fresh halibut from Kodiak Island to the its warehouse in Anchorage, where a pre-tripped, 40-foot TOTE refrigerated trailer awaited transfer of the fish and about 5,500 pounds of additional halibut from other sources.

From there, the halibut-laden container was loaded onto TOTE’s vessel, the M.V. Midnight Sun, and departed Anchorage on Sunday, March 30. The product was successfully delivered to North Pacific Seafoods in Seattle on Wednesday, April 2.

“If a halibut is well-cared-for from the time it leaves the water, it has a 30-day shelf life,” said Curt Stoner, sales manager for TOTE. “For a salmon, it’s 14 days.”

The new combined air-ocean service delivered that first shipment of halibut from Kodiak to the Pacific Northwest market in 108 hours, or just four and a half days.

Another Saltchuk company, Alta Air Logistics, contributed to the success of that first shipment by coordinating the efforts of the two sister companies to provide a seamless transportation service.

NAC officials said feedback from the customer was very positive. The product reached Seattle faster than would have been possible on a direct ocean shipment and the delivery was competitively priced.

“This transportation speed leads to a higher quality of product and creates more value for our customer,” said NAC Account Manager Mike Liland.

Stoner said the companies offered the same type of coordinated service during the summer salmon season in places such as Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound.

He said the unique seafood harvesting season in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound provided a few opportunities for fishermen to try out the service.

Alaska

“We had less that a dozen moves, but we’re hoping it will grow as the market comes to understand the service,” Stoner said. “We recognize that direct flights are the best option, but it’s also the most expensive. The cheapest service would be shipping the fish by barge, but that is very slow. What we’re offering is in between these services and it is priced accordingly.”

Rapid road service

Hauling fresh fish over the Alaska Highway is a service that Carlisle has perfected.

Using team drivers, the trucking company can deliver fresh seafood from Anchorage to Seattle in 52 hours and to Minneapolis in 85 hours, said Carlisle President Linda Leary. “We can get the fish to the East Coast in five days,” Leary said. “In the past, the only choices fishermen had were to ship the fish canned or frozen by steamship or barge.”

But more recently, that has changed.

“For us, it’s a new service,” said Leary. “And our customers seem to like it. In the past, they might have flown their fish to market. This just gives them another option.”

To cope with higher fuel costs, Carlisle tacks on a fuel surcharge that changes weekly rather than institute permanent rate increases, she added.

Seeking transportation synergies

TOTE’s Stoner also said the seafood transportation service is just one example of how Saltchuk’s Alaska- and Washington-based sister companies are collectively marketing their services and offering combined logistic solutions that create better value for customers.

“When you own and operate your own refrigerated containers, you find that southbound opportunities to fill that space are quite limited,” Stoner said. “With this product, we’re trying to find a niche between straight ocean freight rates and air freight rates.”

Besides TOTE, other Saltchuk companies that serve Alaska include:

• Delta Western Inc., an independent distributor of lubricants and petroleum products in

Alaska, Delta Western serves southeast, central and western Alaska.

• Inlet Petroleum Co., a fuel and lubricant provider serving Alaska Railbelt markets.

• Foss Maritime Co., a global marine company, offers tug, barge and lightering services in Alaska.

• Alta Air Logistics: The newest of the Saltchuk companies, Alta Air Logistics provides innovative logistics and transportation services for clients in Alaska and around the world.

• Northern Air Cargo, an air carrier with a fleet of three 737 aircraft that specializes in reaching rural Alaska and Fairbanks, as well as Anchorage.



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