PETERSBURG - After years of losing a grip on domestic and Japanese markets, Alaska's commercial fishermen are now determined to fight for a fair market share for their wild salmon.
United Fishermen of Alaska has embarked on an ambitious marketing plan to help commercial fisherman across Alaska and the United States find a secure place among the millions of pounds of available farm-raised fish.
The plan, authored by UFA Marketing Chairman Bruce Schactler and board member Scott McAllister, is simple: Pour millions into marketing and consumer education to reposition Alaska salmon on world markets.
The three-part plan, if successful, could mean millions for commercial fishing interests in Alaska and the Lower 48. Schactler said the plan calls for legislation that would maximize the as-yet-undetermined settlement from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.
Schactler said, "Once the IRS does take its cut, no matter what it is, it will be a huge amount of money. Even at 15 percent across the board and another 40 percent for the attorneys, you're still looking at a couple billion dollars. Our proposal asks for half of that money to create an Alaska Seafood Marketing Foundation."
The plan also calls for the federal government to give back some of the tax that is expected to be charged on the settlement monies.
The plan also seeks money from the federal government that already is intended to go toward commercial fishing projects.
The Saltonstall-Kennedy program receives money from taxes and duties on imported fisheries products. Schactler said the $300 million in funds is being misappropriated.
"It disappears into the Department of Commerce budget of $3.2 billion dollars a year," he said, adding that in 1998 only about $1.5 million of the available money was spent on research and similar projects.
The proposal asks for $100 million, or 10 percent of the program money for 10 years.
Half of the money would be spent on marketing of seafood from the United States and the other half would be used to establish an endowment for future marketing programs administered by the National Seafood Council.
Lastly, the plan calls for use of funds from both the Exxon Valdez settlement fund and from the Saltonstall-Kennedy program money to improve fresh and frozen seafood transportation within and out of Alaska.
"We need money to begin discussion about how to improve Alaska's transportation system in order to market new products and provide better access for the products currently produced in Alaska," Schactler said.