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Fish Factor

Seafood industry insiders predict a bright future

By Laine Welch


June 25, 2007

Increasing worldwide demand combined with higher seafood prices has boosted the bottom line of major suppliers. Industry insiders predict a bright future, saying seafood companies are more efficient, better capitalized and more liquid than five to 10 years ago.

According to SeaFood Business' annual list of North America's Top 25, major U.S. companies reeled in nearly $12.6 billion in 2006, up about $1.3 billion from the previous year. Trident Seafoods and Oregon-based Pacific Seafood Group were the leaders in the $33 billion total U.S. wholesale seafood business.

Only one food conglomerate, Del Monte (owner of StarKist) remained on the Top 25 list, compared to five food giants five years ago - ConAgra, H.J. Heinz, Unilever, George Weston Ltd. and Aurora Foods (now Pinnacle Foods Group).

"The private, family-run businesses that have dominated the seafood industry for decades are thriving, while the food conglomerates that jumped into the business years ago have bailed out," SeaFood Business said.

"Most of the successful players have strong access to the resource, and it's been a long road for them to get to that point," said industry consultant Scott Etzel. "Seafood doesn't lend itself well to a neat, tidy balance sheet. It isn't easy to predict."

Higher seafood prices added to the seafood companies' financial success, notably Pacific halibut and king salmon. Tight supplies of European whitefish have increased demand for Alaska pollock and cod. A depreciating dollar value also made it less expensive for Europeans to buy U.S. seafood, Etzel said.

The health benefits of seafood are also increasing demand worldwide, particularly in the United States, where the growing baby boomer and Hispanic populations are fueling seafood consumption, SeaFood Business said

Here are some highlights from the list of the top suppliers:

Red Chamber Company of California, which began as a small family owned restaurant in 1973, led all others with sales of $1 billion last year.

American owned Trident Seafoods ranked second with sales of $925 million, followed by Pacific Seafood Group at $874 million.

Canned tuna pushed Connors Brothers of Ontario to fourth place on the list with sales of $784 million. Ditto for Bellevue, Washington's Tri Marine International with sales of $780 million. Tri Marine supplies the country's leading canned-tuna brands - Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and StarKist - handling more than 600,000 tons of tuna annually.

Also in the top ten were Nippon Suisan USA, Unisea, Thai Union International, Fishery Products International of Newfoundland, Starkist and American Seafoods Company.

One of the biggest fish stories last year was the merger of Japanese giants Maruha and Nichiro, making it the world's largest seafood company with annual sales of nearly $8.4 billion. Maruha and Nichiro are Japan's No. 1 and No. 3 seafood suppliers, respectively. Maruha's holdings include Westward Seafoods, Supreme Alaska Seafoods, Alyeska Seafoods, Orca Bay and Prime Pacific Seafoods. Nichiro owns Peter Pan and Golden Alaska Seafoods. Japan's No. 2 seafood company, Nissui, owns UniSea and Gorton's, among other U.S. seafood suppliers.

Read more about the top 25 seafood companies at .

Japan no longer #1

Europe and China combined now take more of Alaska's seafood exports than Japan. According to a report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, in 2000 Japan received $854 million in Alaska seafood exports, 56 percent of the total value. Export value to Japan last year was fairly similar at $808 million, but it added up to only 33 percent of Alaska's seafood export value.

In contrast, ASMI reported that the value of Alaska seafood exports to all other destinations more than doubled during the same period, from $656 million in 2000 to $1.6 billion in 2006.

In 2000, European countries received $159 million in Alaska seafood exports (11 percent of the total) and China received $68 million (5 percent). In 2006, the value of Alaska seafood exports to Europe was $580 million (23 percent of the total) and exports to China were valued at $365 million, 15 percent of the total.

ASMI said the overall value of Alaska's seafood exports has been growing steadily in recent years, from $1.5 billion in 2000 to nearly $2.5 billion in 2006.

King of kings

Yukon River king salmon are gaining a reputation as 'the best' among high end restaurants and chefs. The kings, which travel 2,000 miles up the mighty Yukon, have the highest oil content of all salmon at 24 to 30 percent. That compares to an oil content of about 17 percent for Copper River kings.

Seattle-based Jon Rowley, the food consultant and writer who is often credited with popularizing Copper River salmon, told the industry news site, "with proper handling Yukon kings could be the best eating of all salmons and perhaps even the best of all the fish."

Historically Yukon kings have been frozen and shipped almost exclusively to Japan. In 2002 Kwikpak Fisheries was formed by the Yupik community in Emmonak to create a market for fresh kings in the Lower 48. It is the only seafood company in the world certified by the Fair Trade Association, meaning Yukon River Kings from Kwikpak can be advertised as "fair trade".

Last year Emmonak residents built an ice plant, allowing local fishermen to take ice aboard their boats and chill the kings as soon as they are caught. The iced fish are flown 600 miles to a Kwikpak facility in Anchorage and quickly sent to awaiting markets. Fishermen are getting $4.30/lb for whole fish off the boat.

State managers forecast a catch of 30,000 to 60,000 Yukon king salmon during the fishery that began June 15 and will last for two to three weeks. Get more information at .

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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