A man’s career working in the plants and unloading boats

~ Interview with Happy Seigner

​When many people think of the seafood industry they think about the fishermen and women who work on the ocean, the market where they buy their fish,  and the restaurants that serve their fish cooked up nicely for them. What most people don’t think about is the many individuals who are responsible for getting the seafood from the boats to your plates.

The point of this story that I got was; if people aren’t working together as a team and someone or some people make a mistake, it can be a big %$&#ing mistake.

Happy Seigner is one of those individuals who did that as a career. I can attest that he, and others like him, are the linchpins of the seafood industry. Happy started his career as a dock worker and unloader in 1978 for J.S. McMillan. Like being a fisherman, being a plant worker is a demanding and dangerous job. The hours you work are based on the number of boats that arrive. If there’s another one to be unloaded; you unload another boat. Plain and simple. Fresh fish waits for no one.

​As a greenhorn in the company, Happy was once instructed to be the lead unloader for a boat full of rockfish. Just a young man of 24 and not experienced enough to argue with the people around him, he did what he was told and filled up the hold of the boat to allow the suction machine to work unloading the boat.

The problem was that this particular vessel could not handle the excess weight of the water. As the boat dropped the skipper yelled out that the lines were taut. Too taut to do anything about. All shipmates and dock workers jumped ship literally, and either ran or swam for cover. The weighted boat fell into the bay and lifted the barge it was attached to. The boat sank and broke free of the barge. The barge came up upside down. As Happy told me, it was a shocking and scary thing to see. The boat was righted after some time and effort and the fish was finally offloaded. I can only imagine the intensity of that day. The point of this story that I got was; if people aren’t working together as a team and someone or some people make a mistake, it can be a big %$&#ing mistake. With serious consequences.

As Happy continued to work in the industry, he gained skills and responsibilities. Seafood plants can be large companies and have many roles to strive for. Like many jobs, being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing can be crucial. Having your boss show up late for a shift and missing a crucial unload was one of those times for Happy. In one conversation he went from forklift driver to charge hand or lead hand of a 200 person operation. All with a twist. Happy decided the best way to control and efficiently operate all his staff, as well as keeping the vessel content, was to continue driving the forklift. By doing so he found he could be involved in every aspect of the operation. From being near the boats to moving the fish from the graders to delivering the fish to the gutters, then filleters and finally to the ice plant or the freezers.

Newspaper article about the incident
Happy Siegner with his son Cory

A fish plant has many moving parts. Each step is crucial to the next. If any one of those steps fails, one of two things happens. First and best case scenario – the mistake is caught and the fish discarded. Though this costs money, time, effort, and is wasteful, it also prevents the customer from receiving poor quality fish. Also, the previous problems still apply but with greater consequences. The customer, sometimes the final customer, has to deal with an inferior seafood product. Causing a ripple of problems in its wake. Happy’s job was to see that these problems did not happen on his watch in his plant. Ever. His attention to detail was that of constant diligence. Happy did this job to the best of his abilities and to the delight of the owners for 15 plus years. Through advancements in offloading procedures, refrigeration innovations, NAFTA, vessel catch increases and countless workers coming and going, the whole point to all of this was to get the customer the best product possible.

Happy passed this information of a lifetime on to his son Cory, who used this knowledge in the onshore seafood industry. Cory branched off from product quality after a time and moved into sales. And though he was in a different field within the industry than his father, Cory used the skills taught to him by example to better serve his customers. Now the Fisherman’s Market is the benefactor of Cory’s generational experience in the seafood industry. To this day he works tirelessly with customers through all platforms of marketing, including, and most importantly, in person. Cory is also Fisherman’s Market quality control manager. The lessons learned from Happy’s life experiences can never be forgotten as they are used by Cory, and subsequently within Fisherman’s Market, on a daily basis.

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