A seafood saga
American Seafoods this year celebrated 25 years in business
By Kelsey Larson
In 2013, Seattle-based American Seafoods Company celebrated its 25th year in business.
American Seafoods, founded in 1988 by Norwegian visionary Kjell Inge Røkke and now under the leadership of CEO Bernt Bodal and President Inge Andreassen, helped revolutionize the seafood industry. As it grew from a small start-up with just one pollock catcher-processor to a company that today oversees a super-efficient fleet of six catcher-processors – fishing up and down the West coast from Oregon to Alaska – it took on the challenges of an unpredictable industry.
Back in the 1970s, the U.S. industry knew little about groundfish like Alaska pollock and Pacific whiting, and consequently labelled them as “trash fish.” Starting in the early 90’s, American Seafoods and other fishing companies were able to turn this underutilized resource into a valuable source of healthy protein by developing more efficient processing and state-of-the-art technology. In a relatively short period of time, an efficient and sustainable formula had been found, and American Seafoods used these strategies to become the company it is today: one of the largest harvester and at-sea processing companies in the world.
In conjunction with its anniversary, American Seafoods has released a book commemorating the challenges and successes of the last 25 years. “Pride of the Sea: The American Seafoods Story,” is an all-encompassing book that takes an in-depth look at the fishing industry and the people that helped American Seafoods become who they are today.
“This book will help you better understand the philosophy that has been the mainstay of American Seafoods for 25 years – that if you hire great people and give them the freedom and responsibility to follow their instincts, there is no challenge that they will not rise to meet,” writes CEO Bernt Bodal in the forward.
The idea of a book to memorialize these first 25 years started with Jan Jacobs, American Seafoods’ Director of Government Affairs. “Twenty-five years is a significant milestone and producing this book was a good opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done, and how those experiences shaped who we are as a company today,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs has lived the history of American Seafoods, since he started working for the company as a fleet manager in 1989, just one year after the company’s formation. “I took somewhat of a risk because at that time American Seafoods was a new company and not well known. I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. Little did he know that he’d see this ‘unknown company’ become a giant in the industry. “The fishing industry gets in your blood,” Jacobs says. “I’ve seen a lot of people change jobs, but most people don’t leave. They stay in the industry one way or another.”
Bodal signed off on the book idea, but wanted it to be more than just the history of the company; it had to be interesting and fun to read at the same time. The result is a book chalk-full of stories, interviews, and over 200 color photos. “There’s a lot of history, but it’s told in a lively fashion,” Jacobs says of the book’s content.
To find an author, American Seafoods searched locally. “We were looking for someone with the right experience and reputation,” Jacobs said. They found that in Robert Spector, a Seattleite who had previously written books profiling Northwest companies, including Amazon, Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer. “Pride of the Sea” is Spector’s 25th book, a fitting coincidence.
To prepare for writing this book, Spector had to get out into the field. “He interviewed somewhere around 35 people: people in our office, crew on our boats, and other industry leaders,” said Jacobs.
Meanwhile, the production company, Documentary Media, worked with the photos and text to create a unique layout. “They did some amazing things,” says Jacobs. The angled letter ‘A’ in American Seafoods’ logo became a beautifully understated motif for the book’s design.
“We went through hundreds of photos,” Jacobs says of the book’s vibrant photo spread. “What you see in the book is just a fraction of what we reviewed.” The book took two years to assemble, and Jacobs is satisfied with the result. “I’ve heard nothing but compliments about the finished product…it was a fun project to work on.”
‘Fun’ could also be used to describe the company’s 25th anniversary party, in which it rented out Seattle’s Paramount Theater and filled it with 500 employees, family members, friends and colleagues. Bernt Bodal, who in his pre-fishing days graced Norway’s stages as the member of a rock band, got together with Sammy Hagar, Alan White (the drummer for Yes) and Randy Hansen (famous Jimi Hendrix impersonator), among others, and rocked out for hours to celebrate: a fitting tribute to a company that has achieved much in its 25 years of existence.
“This is a company people really enjoy working for,” says Bodal in the book. “We enjoy getting together even though we’ve been together for 20 years, and we see each other every day. That’s one of the things I’m really proud of.” For American Seafoods, this dedication is a reflection of how the company takes care of its employees. “If we didn’t have the dedication of the crew, we wouldn’t have anything,” President Inge Andreassen is quoted as saying in “Pride of the Sea.”
Limited copies of “Pride of the Sea” are available at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Wash.
This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.