The Government Agency Tango

Hello again! This marks the end of my 3rd week working at Hatfield Marine Science Center. Now that I’m familiar with the environment, my advisers, and the other workers here, I’m definitely falling into a good work routine. This past week was marked with a lot of phone calls to various government agencies—USDA, USDC, NOAA, ODA, etc.—to get clarification on which agency has jurisdiction over what in terms of agriculture and aquaculture. When I called the USDA, my intention was to figure out why they regulate all agricultural products except for seafood. It seems odd to me that aquaculture is not managed by the USDA because it is a growing part of the domesticated food supply in the U.S. I spoke with an information officer for the Food Safety Inspection branch and he explained to me that the USDC was designated as the regulating body for aquaculture and fisheries. The act passed by Congress that put NOAA and the USDC in charge went through in 1946, so I decided to look it up. However, when I read through it I wasn’t able to find a clear statement about what agency was put in charge of seafood regulation. It’s not surprising, but getting to talk to the right person is really difficult. A large portion of the time I spend making calls is just me being connected to one person, then another, then another, then another, then finally someone who can help me. It feels like square dancing—you just have to do-si-do until you land with the right partner.

Another project I began working on last week was getting a comprehensive list of the flights available from the various airports in the Pacific NW, flight times, carriers, etc. I thought this would be a useful addition to the guide we are creating, as it gives people an idea of their shipping options when trying to distribute seafood products internationally. I got to meet with a Sea Grant extension agent who really helped me get a handle on the major issues with transporting live seafood. Being a commercial fisherman as well as a Sea Grant agent, he had much insight on what issues producers are most concerned about. As he pointed out, security is probably the most important thing in terms of shipping internationally. Both the distributor and the buyer are entering into a risky deal when live seafood is involved and new entrants into the market want to know how to protect themselves against that risk. In my opinion, risk is inevitable when you begin in any business but there are a few methods of guarding your business. First, logistics are key if you want to get your product to the end user alive and in good condition. This is something I discussed with the owner of Oregon Oyster Farms and I feel that it’s what makes or breaks a new business in this market. The other important factor is having a good relationship with your distributor/customer. Trust and communication are so important in this business because the product is literally harvested and sent across the world to a buyer who may or may not have even seen one of your oysters or crabs before. Every customer has different standards as well and as a distributor, you must gauge those and meet them.

This week I get to go on another interview, this time at Tillamook Bay Boathouse. Tillamook Bay Boathouse is a retail and wholesale operation that provides fresh seafood on the premises. While on the website it doesn’t appear that they ship internationally, my interview will touch on that. I think an interesting question is why a distributor would choose not to ship internationally and what would help them to get into that market.

In other news, I had a great weekend with a friend from out of town and some of the Sea Granters. We went to a blues festival in Portland and I showed them around to some of my favorite PDX spots. It was beautiful weather all weekend, which has continued into today! I’m looking forward to a productive week and I’ll keep you posted.

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One thought on “The Government Agency Tango

  1. Good insight into the regulation side of things, as well as sales and distribution. Lots of things that most people don’t really think about when buying seafood (or any food, for that matter).

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