Wild Alaska Spends $50 Million to Beat Farm Salmon

JUNEAU, Alaska, April 21, 2003 (ENS) - Alaska's troubled salmon industry will receive a $50 million boost under a plan announced Thursday by Governor Frank Murkowski. The Alaska salmon fishery harvests and markets wild salmon, but the growing market for farmed salmon has left the Alaska industry high and dry.

The $50 million in funding will cover help for individual fishermen and fishing families, aid to municipalities that have seen a drop in raw fish taxes, economic development projects, and a multi-year, intensive marketing program.

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Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski in 2002 when he was a U.S. Senator (Photo courtesy Office of Senator Byrd)
"We want every potential salmon consumer to know the difference between our wild Alaska salmon, with it's high omega-3 content, and farmed salmon," Murkowski said. Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish such as salmon benefit the heart health of healthy people, people at high risk of cardiovascular disease and patients with cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

"Europe is another developing market that needs to know the difference," the governor said. "We really see this funding as an excellent opportunity for a national education campaign on Alaska wild salmon products."

A key element of the new plan is an intensive marketing and advertising campaign through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) to consumers in the Lower 48 states. ASMI is a partnership of the state of Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry that promotes Alaska seafood in the United States and 20 other countries. The agency's 25 member Board of Directors is appointed by the Alaska governor.

Jay Stinson of Kodiak, Alaska, the new chairman of the ASMI Board of Directors, has plenty of experience in the industry he will be promoting to the world. He has been involved in the Alaska salmon fisheries as tender operator, buyer, processor and harvester for more than 30 years, and has operated fishing vessels for 25 years.

Stinson

Jay Stinson will pilot the new salmon marketing program. (Photo courtesy ASMI)
Taking the ASMI helm on March 24, Stinson called for "stable funding" for the organization, a request the governor fulfilled with his newly announced salmon industry recovery plan.

"Our objective is to transition the salmon industry through a very tough time to establish a vibrant and competitive industry, and new way of marketing our wild Alaska salmon," Murkowski said.

In addition to direct aid to individuals experiencing economic hardships, direct aid to impacted communities, and an intensive marketing program, the strategic plan will help bring about higher quality control standards and better transportation.

This should result in a higher quality product in the marketplace, Murkowski said. Other uses of the funding will go to economic development projects, such as chilling and freezing infrastructure, harbor and transportation infrastructure projects, and small business assistance.

Murkowski acknowledged the members of the Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force, who have held extensive hearings statewide on the issue. Many of the task force's recommendations have been included in the strategic plan announced by the governor.

After more than 50 public meetings in nearly a dozen communities and a review of hundreds of proposals, the Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force delivered its final report to the Legislature February 3.

The report was coupled with 14 pieces of proposed legislation to address some immediate issues concerning Alaska’s declining wild salmon industry, salmon product development tax credits as well as a request to extend the task force until January 2005.

State Senator Ben Stevens, a Republican representing Anchorage who chaired the task force, said that much more is needed if Alaska is to reclaim its salmon industry.

“There is so much happening right now in regard to the world salmon market, it is difficult to get your arms around it all in just a few months,” said Stevens. “What we did do was establish a communications conduit between fishermen, processors and the Legislature. Communicating and working together is the key to finding solutions to the problems facing our salmon industry.”

“We must move past the status quo,” said Stevens. “If we are going to compete with fish farms we must provide a superior product. The first step is to continually improve the quality of the fish at the time of catch.”

Last November, the Alaska Office of Fisheries Development (AOFD) produced a report detailing the problems facing the Alaska salmon fishery as part of the larger Alaska fishing and seafood industry.

First, the report found that the Alaska salmon industry, both fishing vessels and processors, is still dominated by Seattle based interests.

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Alaska salmon presented in an appetizing manner by ASMI (Photo courtesy ASMI)
In addition, farmed salmon is becoming increasingly popular, the report states, leading to restructuring of Alaska's catching and processing sectors as they attempt to keep up. "This profound – often painful – change also provides an important opportunity to make this industry more Alaskan," the AOFD said.

Governor Murkowski acknowledged the impact of salmon aquaculture on the Alaska salmon fishery, and is directing the new funds to address this shift. "The erosion of market share to farmed salmon has been devastating. But, we have a better product," he said. "The $50 million in funds we have committed to the process of reclaiming our market for wild Alaska salmon will be used on many fronts to turn the tide."

As the state’s most visible marketing program, ASMI is often blamed for the market crisis facing the Alaska salmon industry, but the Office of Fisheries Development says in its report, "This is unfair. ASMI is not responsible for the decade long recession in Japan, and has no control over the enormous growth of the farmed salmon industry since 1990 – clearly two of the most fundamental market challenges our salmon industry faces."

The $50 million funding package includes $35 million in Fisheries Disaster Funds and $15 million earmarked for economic development through the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Funds.