By Mark Vinsel
October 10, 2005
The flying salmon billboard was funded by the Saltonstall-Kennedy fund, from duties on seafood imports, which is intended for development of American fisheries. With Alaska responsible for approximately 50% of the nation's seafood production, it should not raise criticism from the well-informed when these funds are used to promote Alaska seafood. UFA worked to allocate Saltonstall-Kennedy funding to the marketing of Alaska seafood through the creation of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, and was successful in gaining membership from the fishing community to serve on the board. The representatives on the AFMB board should be commended for their ability to think outside the box with this idea, and Alaska Airlines and the artists deserve credit for the striking design and skillful execution of this work of art.
Marketing Alaska seafood is in the interests of all US citizens because it will promote a stable domestic food supply and the health of our oceans, and help prevent economic hardship in Alaska s coastal communities. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge identified the seafood balance of trade as a top national security priority earlier this year. While the US Commission on Ocean Policy is clear in its support of ecosystem-based management and sustainable fisheries, and its highlighting of Alaska fisheries as a model for the rest of the US, there is little funding on the horizon to provide for the necessary fisheries science. Raising the awareness of consumers so they are willing to pay a small price premium for responsibly-harvested seafood is our only hope for funding the science that can assure the health of our fisheries and oceans. The Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board and the Alaska Airlines' Salmon-Thirty-Salmon are individual components of a very worthwhile and essential marketing effort to provide for a reasonable level of income for participants in Alaska's responsible fisheries.
Historically, funding for marketing of Alaska salmon was through a self-imposed tax by salmon fishermen and processors based on the value of the catch. When the price dropped precipitously with the concurrent explosion of farmed fish, flood of imports from countries with less restrictive management and cheaper labor, and decline in the Japanese market, Alaska was left with depleted seafood marketing funds when they were needed most. A private company facing these market effects would take drastic cost cutting measures, and risk long term finances for short term survival. Alaska s fisheries are a public resource and there are no shortcuts in responsible and sustainable fisheries management.
Without the ability to make a living from sustainable fishing, Alaska's coastal communities face financial difficulties far beyond the funding for seafood marketing and infrastructure improvement that Alaskans have sought from our congressional delegation. It is ironic that the same politicians that decry salmon marketing efforts also impugn our transportation projects, when every person in their home state can drive on a road system to bring their product to market. Of the top twenty US Seafood ports, the five that are in Alaska do not have roads that link beyond their city or borough limits. Alaska has a long way to go in the race for pork before we catch up with lower 48 states in overall infrastructure that provides business opportunity for our citizens to compete in global markets.
I applaud the Alaska delegation, Alaska Airlines, and the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board for the beautiful Alaska salmon in our skies.
Note: Mark Vinsel is Executive Director of United Fishermen of Alaska, a statewide commercial fishing trade organization.
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