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Networking: Michael Cerne

Executive director, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Juneau, Alaska

By Melissa Wood
November 01, 2012

Anyone who lives in or has traveled to Alaska knows all plans are subject to the weather. This is how I met Mike Cerne. We were both in Kodiak for a joint meeting of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s board members and customer advisory panel in August, which also was going to be his formal introduction as the organization’s incoming executive director. But Mother Nature had another plan for the meeting, which got relocated to Anchorage when fog blanketed Kodiak, trapping a half dozen of us who had arrived a day early to the meeting. Thus our little group missed the meeting and had to spend a couple days making the most of our time in Kodiak. 

That was easy, especially with Cerne around. He and his wife, Holly, were newlyweds when they arrived in Kodiak for his first U.S. Coast Guard tour in 1991 for what they thought would be a two-year adventure. Instead, they fell in love with Alaska. After spending three Coast Guard tours on Kodiak, he knows the island well and could introduce us to old friends as well as the perfect spot by the beach to light a fire pit and grill some sockeye. 

Cerne’s down-to-earth manner makes it easy to forget his impressive resume. He was the chief of fisheries law enforcement for the Coast Guard, from which he retired after 31 years in 2011 with the rank of captain. He then worked on a project with the United Nations to improve the management of global tuna fisheries. 

Cerne began working with ASMI in September, which allowed him to shadow outgoing director Ray Riutta, who departs the organization next month. Cerne lives in Juneau with his wife and two daughters, Kathryn, 19, and Sarah, 17.

Describe your United Nations work.

It’s funded by the Global Environment Facility, and they have asked the U.N. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) to put together a $30 million project to improve the overall management of tuna fisheries worldwide. I was the expert brought in for monitoring control and surveillance and so the last four months I’ve been all over the globe visiting with tuna RFMOs (regional fishery management organizations). We were meeting with stakeholders to collect and exchange ideas to improve the management of the fisheries. 

What got you interested in the position at ASMI? 

I’ve been interested in this position for years. I always wanted, after I retired from the Coast Guard, to continue working with the North Pacific fishing industry, and I really wanted a position that worked with the industry as a whole and not necessarily a trade organization, so this is perfect.

I like the way the North Pacific industry works together and solves problems. I’ve had the opportunity to go to every one of the different fishery management councils throughout the country, and the North Pacific sets the standard for sure. And I like the fact that all of these fisheries are sustainable. It’s just a good, honest, professional group of people to work with.

Why did you decide to go into the Coast Guard? 

Jacques Cousteau. I remember as a kid watching him, and growing up I wanted to be a marine biologist. I was always interested in marine science and fisheries. I majored in that at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and then the University of Rhode Island for a master’s in marine affairs.

Any good stories from your days in Coast Guard law enforcement? 

There was one interesting case where we had a Honduran-flagged vessel that was crewed by Russians and owned by a company in South Korea and we found them high-seas drift-net fishing and we chased them for three days. They refused to answer our radio calls, our flashing light signals, and finally we got permission to use warning shots and disabling shots to stop the vessel. [After we transmitted that news] they came back on the radio in perfect English and said, “OK, we’re stopping.” 

 

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