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Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute reports dramatic rise in retail sales of seafood

“Canned Alaskan Salmon” by cookbookman17 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – The Director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute gave insight into the economic status of Alaskan fish that are commercially harvested in Alaska during the southeast conference annual meeting.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, is a public-private partnership between the state of Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry. Executive Director of ASMI, Jeremy Woodrow, said the founding of everything they do, from a marketing perspective, is sustainable management, and said that’s what sets Alaska apart across the world.

“The best part is that our numbers have changed about the value of our seafood continues to trend up but by talking about the numbers haven’t changed a whole lot, that is really the definition of sustainability. We harvest pretty much the same amount of fish year in year out,” said Woodrow. He said that 5.4 to 6 billion pounds of fish a year is what commercial fishermen harvest across the state, which is worth about $2 billion dollars, processors then turn it into about $4.4 billion of wholesale value. 2.6 billion pounds of fish are then sold across the world.

Woodrow said southeast harvests about 162 million pounds of that fish. He pointed out that some of the species that are caught in southeast, like salmon, are key to the region, and represent the majority of the value of the species that are caught. He also noted that a lot of other high-value fish like stablefish and halibut are also caught in southeast.

In terms of value, Woodrow said that about a third of the value of the fish ends up in the United States, and a lot of the higher value fish like cod, black cod, halibut, king salmon, and coho salmon end up in the US in restaurants and grocery stores.

“So imagine what happened in March of 2020, we lost our biggest buyer,” he said. “And so what happened was ex-vessel value just plummeted, and on average, about 20 to 25% of the ex-vessel values disappeared last year.”

“There were some fishermen who just couldn’t leave the dock because it wouldn’t even pay for the price of gas last year,” he said. “The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute alone were paid by the industry, we saw about a third of our revenues decreased as just a marketing agency.”

However, Woodrow said given that consumers couldn’t go to restaurants for seafood, they still sought it through other means.

“For the first time ever we saw seafood sales increase dramatically in the retail restaurant and retail sector as well as in the E-commerce sectors, and we’re seeing those increases stay up, they didn’t quite make up for seafood sales at restaurants, however, we have more people cooking seafood at home than ever before and that’s just an incredible opportunity for keeping seafood as part of those menu plans and families and homes and so that’s something that Alaska seafood continues to capitalize on we’re going to capitalize on moving forward into the future.”

Still impacting fish value is global trade. According to Woodrow, 75% of the state’s volume of fish is exported globally. He pointed out the current trade war with China, citing that the tariff rates of 37%-42% on products going into the country have reduced the value of the exports by about half a billion dollars in the last four years.

Meanwhile, during the 2014 Ukraine crisis, there were sanctions that the U.S. put on Russia, and the country retaliated by putting an embargo on all western products going to Russia.

“We still can’t send our seafood to Russia, but Russia has been sending their seafood to the U.S. and pretty much growing year over year and since 2013 imports from Russia to the US have increased 173%,” he said. “The products often undercut Alaska seafood products in the U.S., it’s harvested in lowered labor standards so it’s cheaper to harvest on their side and then send it over and undercut our species.”

Woodrow said the volatile harvests year over year in the state creates uncertainty in the marketplace.

“If you lose out on buyers from one year, sometimes they don’t come back the next year when you do have a fishery and that creates challenges for ASMI, and creates challenges for our fishermen when they’re trying to rebuild those markets that they may have lost from year to year.”

ASMI houses many reports on the status of the seafood industry in Alaska on their website at https://www.alaskaseafood.org/industry/