SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

If it comes from Alaska...
By Laine Welch


August 11, 2007

Sarah Palin could soon be the "poster-gov" of Alaska seafood on national TV.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is negotiating with the Food Network to feature Palin with Alton Brown, a sort of Bill Nye the Science Guy of cooking. A major goal of the match up is to help clear up confusions about seafood in the marketplace.

Their message will be simple: if it comes from Alaska, it is good for you.

"When people go into a store they see seafood labeled wild sustainable .organic ocean raised farmed fish ­ it's really a jumble of phrases out there. She can help set the record straight," said ASMI director Ray Riutta.

Alton Brown hosts two programs on the Food Network - 'Good Eats' and "Feasting on Asphalt.' Brown and the Governor will feature advice on purchasing Alaska seafood and cooking tips. Palin might also appear with the Network's wildly popular Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay, and be part of a media tour that includes Good Morning America, Today and Oprah.

Riutta said Gov. Palin's background as a commercial salmon fisherman makes her "a natural" to promote Alaska seafood. She also represents an important population ASMI is trying to reach ­ women professionals in their 30s and 40s.

A nation-wide Consumers Report survey revealed that 62 percent of Americans want to know where their foods come from. Sensational headlines about contaminated and tainted foods have people scrutinizing labels like never before. Riutta said Alaska as "the source" offers strong reassurance of food safety.

"We've done testing on Alaska as a brand, at least domestically, and the numbers are overwhelming in favor of the Alaska seafood brand. We're sure that carries overseas as well," Riutta said. ASMI has a $1.6 million budget for fall and winter on the Food Network and other TV outlets.

COOL Comments

Seafood origins are not as straightforward when it comes to cans. For the past two years, federal laws have required Country of Origin Labels (COOL) on most seafood items at U.S. retail counters. The COOL labels must also identify if the fish or shellfish is wild or farmed.

But when the interim law went into effect two years ago, the Alaska industry was angered when the feds pulled a last minute switch and put canned, pouched and smoked seafood in the 'processed foods' category. That made those products ineligible for coverage under COOL.

"We feel this is something that consumers want to know. There has been overwhelming public comment by Alaska fishermen, but the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has not responded to those comments at this time," said Mark Vinsel, director of United Fishermen of Alaska. "We feel there is tremendous interest by the public in having country of origin labels cover canned fish."

The bulk of Alaska's annual salmon catch still goes into cans. Consumers have another chance to comment on the final COOL rule through August 20. Send to .

Fish is food

The West Coast's largest commercial fishermen's organization has joined forces with the nation's farmers to protect the common interests of America's food producers. It includes the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association, which represents 14 different fishing groups in California, Oregon and Washington, and the National Farmers Union, whose membership includes 250,000 farm and ranch families.

The groups believe they share many similar goals and problems. "Fishermen and farmers face a lack of new people coming into the industry, being pressured by big food corporations or trade deals, and just generally getting walked over by bigger interests," said PCFFA director Zeke Grader. "We felt it is important to align as much as we can because we have this common interest in saving our communities, and trying to produce good healthy, wholesome products."

The alliance comes at a time when the U.S. Farm Bill is being revised by Congress. As farmers of the sea, fishermen want to make sure they have a voice in shaping the policies and support programs covered by the bill.

"Fishermen are food producers, the same as farmers, and we need to have many of the same levels of protection and opportunity," Grader said.

Cape Cod fishermen have joined with the region's cranberry farmer to form the New England Farmer's Union. United Fishermen of Alaska is also closely tracking the Farm Bill that is likely to be passed by Congress in 2008. The bill is revised every five years.


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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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska