My turn: Revitalizing Alaska's salmon industry in the last 3 years

Posted: Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A recent University of Alaska study regarding Alaska's commercial salmon industry fails to acknowledge the Murkowski administration's success in revitalizing Alaska's salmon industry.

We are writing to set the record straight.

Alaska's commercial fishing industry is one of the largest private sector employers in the state. Over the last two years, the industry has taken a dramatic turn for the better:

• After a decade of steady decline, nearly all commercial salmon permits are seeing a rebound in prices.

• After seven years of decline, seafood processing jobs are increasing. In 2003 and 2004, over 900 new seafood processing jobs were created.

• Since 2002, most ex-vessel salmon prices have increased.

• Federal statistics show that Alaska's international export of seafood products totaled $1.7 billion in 2004, a 21 percent increase that surpasses year-end totals for the last decade.

• Alaska exported seafood to 44 different countries in 2004, up from 34 countries in 2002.

These are indisputable facts.

The Institute of Social and Economic Research study paints a bleak picture and argues that the future success of Alaska's salmon industry is contingent upon restructuring. It cites a lack of government leadership as one of the "fundamental obstacles" preventing such restructuring.

Leadership may have been lacking in previous years, but our hugely successful track record in revitalizing Alaska's salmon industry over the last three years is documented evidence of a completely different story.

Shortly after taking office, Gov. Murkowski launched a Fisheries Revitalization Strategy to help boost investment in the industry and ensure that commercial fishing remains a sustainable and prosperous career opportunity for all Alaskans. At the time, the governor acknowledged the challenges facing the salmon industry and directed his staff to confront the problems.

A Fish Cabinet was created. They immediately launched the governor's plan, which included the strategic distribution of $50 million in federal funding to revitalize and modernize this sustainable industry, and widespread public education efforts regarding the benefits of wild Alaska salmon.

Our value-added and marketing efforts have yielded impressive results. Small businesses and fishermen have been able to improve their packaging and the products that they offer to consumers, with increased prices as their reward. Other successes include the emptying of warehouses that used to store surplus canned salmon; the decision by Legal Sea Foods to serve Alaska wild salmon at all 30 of its East Coast restaurants; and the promotion of Trident Seafood's salmon burger in nationwide Costco Wholesale Corp. stores.

This administration has worked closely with the Alaska Legislature to streamline and strengthen the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute; grant local fishing groups taxing authority; protect workers at Alaska seafood plants through adequate bonding requirements; and eliminate the statutory limit on seine vessel length so that the Board of Fisheries could authorize longer vessels in salmon seine fisheries. All of these changes were made to address the needs of Alaska's commercial salmon industry.

Under the leadership of Murkowski, the Board of Fisheries formed the Salmon Industry Restructuring Panel, which is currently reviewing options to restructure Alaska's commercial salmon industry. After reviewing the panel's proposals, the board will develop an action plan that will be used in restructuring the industry.

Moving forward, the Murkowski administration will continue to work with industry representatives, legislators and members of the Board of Fisheries to ensure the growth and success of this valuable industry.

Just this week in King Salmon, Bristol Bay leader Robin Samuelson openly praised Gov. Murkowski at length for keeping his promises to the Alaska fishing industry and providing the leadership needed to restore Alaska's fishing families and processors to more profitable days.

The Murkowski administration has demonstrated its ability to revitalize Alaska's commercial salmon industry. Our track record speaks for itself.

• McKie Campbell is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. William Noll is commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

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