Seafood marketing budget shrinks

Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which promotes Alaska fishermen's catch around the world, projects it will run on savings for the next couple of years.

"We can't live on this budget," said Bruce Wallace, ASMI board member and fisherman.

The budget is decreasing, according to data supplied by Wallace. How much the state will contribute for fiscal year 2009 is up for discussion this week in the Alaska Legislature.

Gov. Sarah Palin recommended a $250,000 increase in state funding to ASMI, bringing the total to $750,000. Last week, the House Finance Subcommittee took a recommendation from its chairman, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, to cut that increase by $138,000.

Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.

ASMI's budget for fiscal year 2008 is $22 million. It projects an income of $20 million for 2009, and gradually less in the years that follow.

The organization's money comes largely from federal funds and from a half-percent tax on ex-vessel values of Alaska seafood, which are a measure of the money paid to commercial fishermen for their catch. The state has contributed money since fiscal year 2006.

ASMI promotes the Alaska harvest in international markets, domestic retail and service markets. It means, for example, going to trade shows or sending celebrity chefs on marketing tours. This year, ASMI will feature the governor in a five-minute video, which an estimated 35 million people in the Lower 48 likely will see, about the tastiness and health benefits of Alaska seafood.

ASMI doesn't directly sell seafood, so it's difficult to quantify how the money it spends to promote the state's seafood is helping the industry.

Board member Bruce Wallace points to ex-vessel values, which rose to $7.3 million in fiscal year 2007, from $2.9 million in 2004.

"Some of that is in volume," he said, referring to an increase in the harvest. "Most of it is in price."

Richie Davis, who fishes for salmon, black cod and halibut, said much of the marketing for his own fish is done by the Seafood Producers Cooperative. The ASMI tax is still taken from what he sells to processors, but it's less important to him. Yet he said that the ASMI money is well spent.

"That's a humble opinion from one fisherman that says without them, we'd be worse off," he said. "But I can't say how much in dollars and cents."

A more subjective measure that several people mentioned: In recent years, Alaska salmon has become one of the most recognizable brands of food in the Lower 48, according to market studies.

"If you're right behind Oreo cookies, you've obviously done something right," said Kathy Hansen, president of the Southeast Fishermen's Alliance. "They do what they can with the budget they have."

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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