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A Kinder Gentler Salmon Business

Did you catch the recently published story from the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature, that says that fish can recognize human faces? Using archerfish for the study, the report was definitive – they can!  Conducted by scientists at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and the University of Queensland in Australia, the research was done by scientists choosing animals with simple brains to determine if they could perform facial recognition.   The fish studied were given images of human faces and could distinguished familiar from new faces.

I read this and immediately visualized my friends and colleagues on their commercial fishing vessels looking into the water for first of season wild salmon.   Are the salmon looking for familiar faces?     Well, maybe not so much as they’ve been on a wild ride out at sea swimming, feeding and surviving with a clear intent to get back to their original home. Likely, they do not have a lot of time to look up into the eyes of the fishermen.  

Yet, if the fish were looking at the fishermen, what would they see? The study reminds me of how much I admire harvesters who are grateful and respectful of their harvest.   They show it in how they handle their crew, their equipment and their process of catching and handling their fish.     They are concerned that once caught, it maintains the right temperature, that it is processed assuring the maximum yield and making sure their story is well told and truly appreciated by those who prepare and dine on the bounty.     I think the fish would look into those faces and be proud.

The wild salmon business in Alaska is one of the most complex supply chains, in the world.   It is a fast business with unbelievable numbers of curves and twists that happen in a matter of a day often resulting in short and abrupt communication.   It is not normally what you would call a kind and gentle environment.   However, I was reminded recently that it is possible to be kinder and gentler, in the midst of what often appears chaos.   I made an inquiry to a number of vendors for a price quote related to a more streamlined supply chain for wild salmon.     I received the responses I expected and figured those into the forecast.   Those were replies to my emails with “ Hi – here’s the price.“   Yet, the most experienced and successful vendor in the business did not reply in the same way.   Rather, they replied with a short letter putting themselves in my shoes and offering options, recommendations and timelines to implement.   I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the thoughtfulness, recognizing that the salmon is a precious resource.     I don’t want to put it on an “everybody does this conveyor belt”.     They demonstrated a professionalism that I expect when we talk about quality of a perishable food supply chain.     I would suspect that very few people have had so much pressure to perform as this particular vendor in this complicated system, and still they had time to be considerate and respectful of the resource.    Is it possible their success actually evolved from a kinder, gentler way of doing business?

Truly wild salmon start their lives in remote creeks, swim up to 1,000 miles into the ocean and return to their original home years later.   They are central to a rich history and culture of those who have and continue to rely on its sustenance.   They give us an unbelievable bounty and well deserve our respect and professionalism in sharing them with the world.

Does it make you curious what the fish are seeing if they are looking back at us?     I hope a kinder and gentler business of seafood.



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