A major Senate appropriations bill includes $20 million to market Alaska seafood.
The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved the bill, which funds the departments of Commerce, Justice and State. It will go to the full Senate for consideration.
The appropriated funds will be administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Saltonstall-Kennedy Program, which offers grants or cooperative agreements for research and development projects to benefit the U.S. fishing industry.
"Through similar efforts, the Alaska seafood industry has shown great success in promoting our prime seafood to targeted Lower 48 consumers," said Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, in a prepared statement. "This additional $20 million will expand on these efforts and increase the volume of domestically grown wild seafood purchased by Americans and consumers abroad. This is good for all Alaska fishermen."
The Saltonstall-Kennedy Program is funded by duties or tariffs collected on fishery-product imports to the United States.
The proposed funding bill will not add new money to the federal budget, said Stevens spokeswoman Melanie Alvard. But it will designate $20 million of the funds already appropriated to the program for Alaska seafood marketing.
"In 2001, money from the program was used for government programs that had nothing to do with fisheries or seafood products," said Bruce Schactler, president of the Alaska fishing group United Salmon Association and chairman of the United Fishermen of Alaska.
"Our salmon industry in particular is so crippled because of farmed salmon imports," he said. "But $20 million will be a great first step for the marketing health of our industry."
Stevens said the appropriation will assist Alaska fishermen in combating the sale of internationally farmed salmon in the United States.
"Last year, Chilean pen-raised farm salmon was purposefully delivered at the same time as Alaskan fishermen brought their salmon to market," Stevens said. "It was and is the intent of Chile to devastate and erase the Alaskan wild-salmon market. Other countries are increasing their farmed salmon capabilities and are flooding the U.S. market with pen-raised, pellet-fed and chemically enhanced salmon."
Barbara Belknap, outgoing executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said the price of salmon is so low because Chileans are selling at very low prices, with a campaign to sell as cheaply as they possibly can.
"If a grocery store owner can get salmon for 70 cents a pound, and Alaska wants $1.20 a pound, they're going to go for 70 cents unless they are convinced it's better to get wild salmon," Belknap said. "Chileans fortunately have started to reduce production, and we hope the overall price will go up."
Wild salmon have several advantages over farmed salmon in the marketplace, Belknap said. Wild salmon have no additives and are naturally colored, but farmed salmon are artificially colored, she said.
"Wild salmon is a sustainable product, part of the natural ecosystem," Belknap said. "Farmed salmon takes from the earth and doesn't give back. They use fish to feed fish. Wild salmon is part of the natural cycle; it's healthier and it tastes better."
Schactler said the United Salmon Association developed a plan in 2001 to aggressively pursue the use of Saltonstall-Kennedy funds to create a National Seafood Marketing Fund. The plan was adopted by the United Fishermen of Alaska as well.
"We presented the plan numerous times to Sen. Stevens and Sen. (Frank) Murkowski and Rep. (Don) Young," Schactler said, referring to the Alaska congressional delegation. "We're hoping that through the budget process it remains in place."
Belknap said if the bill is approved with the Alaska fish marketing intact, ASMI will apply for a marketing grant. She said ASMI's budget continues to decrease because it depends on state taxes from the seafood industry.
ASMI's projected budget for fiscal 2002 is a little more than $10 million. The organization expects its budget will have decreased by 39 percent between 2000 and 2004.
"We're the first in line to apply for a marketing grant since we already have the infrastructure in place. In the past we've had to contract our efforts, and in markets like Japan and Europe we've had to cut back.
"My guess would be that fishermen who market their own fish may be able to apply for grants as well," Belknap said.
"It's on an RFP (request for proposal) basis, so the best idea will get the money," Schactler said. "It ought to be enough to get fishermen and processors in a room to get a plan to get marketing to match production.
"We need to work together to complement each other," Schactler said. "We need to plan to market products that we presently produce."
Emily Wescott can be reached at email@example.com.