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Fish Factor

Alaska Lawmakers Say 'No Way' to Hefty WA Shipping Tax
By Laine Welch


February 19, 2007

Alaska lawmakers and the seafood industry are saying 'no way' to Washington senators who aim to put a hefty new tax on shipping containers.

The Washington State Senate is considering a bill (SB 5207) that would impose a $50 fee per 20-foot equivalents for shipping containers at Puget Sound ports. The industry standard is 40 feet.

'So a 40 foot container would be taxed $100. That's both directions - inbound and outbound ­ on all products," said Kathy Hanson of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen's Alliance and statewide chair for United Fishermen of Alaska, which opposes the tax.

The senators claim the money is needed "to mitigate the enormous burden imposed on the state transportation system by the overland movement of cargo shipped to and from Washington State ports." The tax would be imposed on marine terminal operators, who would keep 10 percent to cover accounting costs. The remaining 90 percent would be spent on infrastructure improvements to state of Washington ports.

The people of Washington should pay for those improvements, not Alaskans, said Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Haines). Thomas has sponsored a joint resolution (HJR 8) opposing the container tax. Thomas points out that the AK/WA shipping connection provides $4 billion in commerce, and he suggests that Washington find other ways to fund its port fix ups.

Major Alaska seafood companies also oppose the measure 'out of hand', said Glenn Reed of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association. He said according to analyses done by the bill sponsors, 25 percent of the container traffic coming in and out of Washington ports are from Alaska.

"I understand the first year the tax would be expected to raise more than $300 million and close to half a billion dollars in total taxes within three years - 25 percent of which would be impacting Alaskan trade" Reed said.

Reed said the bill is unlikely to pass at the $50 tax rate and "compromise" numbers are being bandied about. Meanwhile, Reed said Alaska shippers are considering doing business with alternative ports. "Depending on how many containers you ship, the numbers get pretty big, pretty quick."

Retraining still available for salmon fishermen

The bottom line of many Alaska salmon fishermen was badly hurt for years by imports of cheaper farmed fish. But because Alaska salmon fishermen are officially considered as "agriculture producers" by the federal government, they qualified for numerous benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.

Many fishermen received cash payouts of up to $10,000 from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture as compensation for low salmon prices in 2003 and 2004. Those fishermen are still eligible for federally funded retraining benefits

"Those who were eligible for money from USDA under either one of those benefit years have training benefits with U.S. Labor Dept. Trade Act program forever," said Sandra Burgess, Trade Act program lead for the Alaska Labor Dept. in Juneau.

Burgess said 93 fishermen have signed up for the various programs which include on the job training, vocational or academic. Many have opted to stay on the water, getting retrained in various merchant marine programs, including the Alaska ferry system.

"Some of the fishermen have gone back to school and completed nursing programs, teaching degrees, truck driving and heavy equipment training, radiological technicians - I even have someone in his last year of law school and two people in the culinary arts," Burgess said.

So far 57 fishermen have completed training programs and the remainder are continuing.

"The completion rate for commercial fishermen has been very good ­ 70 percent have completed the program so far," she added.

Of more than 28,000 Alaska salmon permit holders only about 4,300 applied for TAA benefits from the USDA. Of that, 1,700 fishermen were approved.

Get more information about Trade Act benefits at local AK Job Centers, or contact Burgess at 907.465-5947 or

Protein trends

Even though Americans ate slightly less seafood in 2005, interrupting a four year upward trend, the 16.2 pounds per person still reflected the third largest seafood appetite in U.S. history.

In his latest Seafood Trend Newsletter, market analyst Ken Talley provides a closer look at America's eating habits. In terms of total volume, American seafood lovers ate 4.8 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2005­ making the U.S. the world's third largest seafood consumer, behind only Japan and China. Unfortunately, nearly 80 percent of that seafood was imported to the U.S. from other countries.

There was also a change in America's preferred seafood product forms - they enjoyed 11.6 pounds of fresh and frozen seafood, the second highest ever.

Canned seafood purchases declined 4.4 percent, mostly for canned tuna, while sales of canned salmon increased slightly.

Americans also ate a record five pounds each of fillets and steaks, and nearly one pound each of fish sticks and portions.

In all, Americans spent five percent more money on seafood purchases­ restaurant sales of $44.5 billion showed an increase of 3.7 percent. The $20.5 billion spent at retail seafood counters in 2005 was up 7.2 percent.

Seafood still has a long way to go to overtake other popular proteins. Beef held onto the top spot with Americans eating a whopping 62.4 pounds per person in 2005! Chicken is nipping at the heels of red meat at 60.4 pounds. Pork is number three at 46.5 pounds per person.

Seafood ranked number four at a distant 16.2 pounds. Turkey came in last on America's favorite protein list at 13.1 pounds per person.



Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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