Alaska’s seafood industry is the state’s largest private employer and its largest export market. Yet it has a narrow opportunity to grow in a world market that is growing in size and competition.
Commissioner of Commerce Community and Economic Development Susan Bell said her department is working to bring down energy costs, develop infrastructure to bring goods to market and diversify Alaska’s economy.
“We are really focused on marketing Alaska’s goods and services,” Bell said.
Tyson Fick of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute said his organization currently has marketing campaigns going in France, Spain, China and Brazil. The institute is working with other partners to open up new markets, he said.
“How do we get Alaska seafood to be the choice in areas where it is not a source of protein,” Fick said.
Fick and Bell testified Tuesday at the House Committee on Economic Development, Trade and Tourism.
ASMI does not focus on any particular region or brand of Alaska seafood, Brennan said. It is funded by a 0.2 percent tax on seafood producers. A typical year can add $8 million to the institute’s coffers, he said. It was more in 2011 when ex-Vessel value totaled over $2 billion.
Fick said ASMI collaborates on projects where applicable. Along with state and federal agencies, ASMI has worked with national television shows, the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward and Alaska Airlines and its Salmon-Thirty-Salmon painted jet to name a few. It has hosted special events such as the world’s longest fish taco, longest sushi roll and largest fish stew. And it has worked with fast food restaurants and schools to get Alaska fish on the menu. Cafés in Macy’s stores ran an Alaska seafood campaign to great success, Fick said.
Alaska’s seafood industry is the state’s largest private sector employer. Alaska fishermen hauled in 52 percent of the U.S. harvest in 2011. However, this only adds up to less than 2 percent of the worldwide catch.
“Kind of underlays the importance of marketing,” Fick said.
Pollock, sole, cod and other ground fish make up over half by volume and 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood value. Salmon makes up a much smaller percent of weight caught but is more valuable per pound – 14 percent of harvest nets 31 percent of value. Alaska’s Pollock fishery is the largest fishery in the U.S.
Seafood is also Alaska’s largest export market.
“Our seafood goes all over,” Fick said. “But the U.S. is a little over half.”
Alaska faces challenges to its seafood markets. Unrest in the European Union has hurt some Alaska exports, Fick said. Illegal fisheries deplete resources and drive down world prices.
“The illegal Russian crab fishery is larger than our entire crab fleet,” Fick said. This illegal fishing could reduce Alaska crab prices by up to 25 percent, he said.
The global white fish market is also troubling.
A rebound of Atlantic cod stocks has put pressure on Alaska’s much smaller cod fishery. Chile and Norway are also pushing their groundfish hard.
“They are coming right after the U.S. market,” Fick said.
In an effort to bolster local use of Alaska’s seafood and other home-grown food sources, Rep. Bill Stoltze of Wasilla introduced House Concurrent Resolution 1. The resolution would establish a food resource board. Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula also signed on to the resolution.
Though non-binding, HCR1 asks Gov. Sean Parnell to establish a state food resource development working group. The group would work with the Alaska Food Policy Council “to identify resources and set policies to build a strong and sustainable healthy food system in the state,” according to the resolution language. “Identify … new food production, food processing and food distribution businesses.” And “enhance the access, availability, affordability and quality of food for residents of the state.”
Stoltze said he left a description of the make of the group out of the resolution on purpose.
“I didn’t want to start naming members beforehand — ‘X’ number of farmers ‘X’ number of environmental activists ‘X’ number of DEC officials. I think for this process it probably would have been cumbersome and counter productive. This is really about getting government to reach out and work with these entities.” Stoltze listed around eight agencies in the resolution that could collaborate on this issue. Including the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and the Alaska State Legislature.
Kevin Brennan Executive Director of Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association. The Association is a non-profit salmon hatchery.
Hatchery salmon make up about 30 percent of statewide salmon harvest.
“We want to increase that and encourage the state to help us to help with food security,” Brennan said.
Hatcheries are traditionally associated with Alaska’s commercial fisheries, Brennan said. However, he said, his organization has expanded its role to include food security.
“We have looked at what kind of legacy we can leave our children,” Brennan said. Fish could address all aspects of world malnutrition, Brennan said. Fish should be a staple protein source for subsistence, personal use and sports fisheries, he said.
“It is a very important source of food for local communities,” Brennan said
House Concurrent Resolution 1 is schedule to be heard again today, Jan 31, at 11:15 a.m. Barnes room 214 in the Capitol Building.
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.