Web site helps Bristol Bay fishing business expand in Germany

trade.jpg A Bristol Bay commercial fishing family is building its business by selling Alaska salmon lox and filets in Germany via the Internet.

The Great Ruby Fish Co., run by the Adams family, has been selling its sockeye salmon product to Germany for two years, said Kevin Adams, who handles public relations and sales for the company.

A German language Web site, launched six months ago, has opened a new door for sales, he said.

Recently, a woman living in Texas visited the Web site and e-mailed the company’s agent in Germany to find a way to purchase the Alaska salmon. Adams contacted her, and she purchased more than 100 pounds for Christmas gifts, he said.

"She thought it was unique -- Alaska fish smoked in German style," he said.

The company aims to carve its niche selling high-quality Alaska salmon products, Adams said.

"We’re fishermen, first and foremost," said Adams, whose family has been fishing from Naknek since 1966. For years the family has brought fish home to Anchorage and prepared it, he said. Now Adams Enterprises is selling Alaska salmon in Germany, targeting what Adams calls the educated palette. "We’re offering to the market fisherman-quality fish," he said.

Robin Zerbel, executive director of the World Trade Center Alaska, believes small- to medium-size seafood processors, like the Great Ruby Fish Co., are a key to a new era of marketing Alaska seafood. However, as demand increases for their products the key will be meeting that demand, she said.

Work by the Great Ruby Fish Co. and others, Zerbel said, alters a once common standard that fishermen typically worked for unknown consumers since fish was sold through intermediary companies.

"Now the harvester produces knowing who the market is, and (fishermen) are paying attention to trends," she said.

Zerbel, who met Adams in the early 1990s, said he is trying to support small value-added operations for the industry.

Adams and his family have seen many changes in the commercial fishing industry in Alaska in the past several decades. Some companies have consolidated and others have closed in that time, he said. Adams Enterprises has invested for the long haul, buying property in 1976 and building a warehouse in Naknek that has received several additions since then, he said.

In 1983 Adams Enterprises started selling fishing nets, gear and some marine hardware as well as storing fishermen’s nets in winter.

The cannery once had supplied these services for the area, and so the family entered the net business, said Adams’ mother, Lila Adams of Anchorage.

Adams Enterprises Net and Gear is open in Naknek from April to September. The business includes Lila Adams’ husband, Charles Adams, brother-in-law George Adams, her three sons and six grandchildren. "We’ve consistently stayed a family-operated business," she said.

The family also has seen the impact of competition from farmed fish. "Farmed fish is eroding our major market, Japan" which has led to consolidation of companies in Alaska, Kevin Adams said, noting the strain on Alaska’s top market for fish exports.

One way to successfully compete with farmed salmon is to present high-quality wild fish, he said. He is concentrating on the European market because consumers are willing to pay for a high-quality product and they are concerned about genetically engineered food, he said.

Ten years ago the Adams’ began a partnership with a King Salmon lodge owner who now provides the secret flavoring for the product. The lodge operator, who catered to German clients, asked Adams Enterprises for fish to smoke as lox for clients.

Two years ago Adams visited Germany and examined the seafood market. Adams Enterprises hired an agent there who handles wholesale and consumer sales and visits restaurants and grocery stores to hand out product samples, Adams said.

He plans to grow the business slowly, although supply is available since the company, which operates three fishing boats and has four permits, can buy from other fishermen, he said.

This summer Adams Enterprises plans to operate custom processing after the area cannery closes in mid-July. The move could post new opportunities for fishermen to harvest remaining sockeye as well as work the silver and chum seasons. "We want to open this opportunity to other fishermen," he said.

Adams, who earned a international relations degree from California State University at Chico, believes his education helps him open doors with people from other countries.

After two years of selling salmon direct to Germany and launching the Web site, Adams calls the results part of a learning curve. "We’re learning and the Germans are learning," he said.

01/20/2001 - 8:00pm