SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Alaska seafood a better deal when dollar is down
By Laine Welch


October 24, 2007

A nosedive in the value of the U.S. dollar has Canadians streaming across the border to shop at American malls and supermarkets. The same shopping interest holds true for customers of Alaska seafood, who are finding good bargains at current exchange rates.

When the dollar is down compared to other currencies, Alaska seafood is a better deal, explained fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp at the Univ. of Alaska/Anchorage.

"When the dollar drops, it strengthens foreign demand and will help bid up the price for those markets."

Seafood buying interest is especially good in Europe, where the Euro is now much stronger than the dollar.

"That's good news for Alaska pollock, and also increasingly for salmon," Knapp said.
It's a different story for Japan where the yen/dollar ratio has been holding fairly steady for several years.

"All the stuff that's going on with the value of the dollar and exchange rates at the moment are not affecting our Japanese markets one way or the other," Knapp said.

While it may be business as usual in terms of currency, Alaska's long seafood relationship with Japan is changing. In the not too distant past, for example, nearly all of the Alaska sockeye salmon catch went to Japan; today it's closer to 35 percent. More Alaska seafood now goes to developing markets in the U.S and Europe, and to China for reprocessing.
"It's something we don't normally think about in terms of our fisheries. But exchange rates are a reminder that Alaska seafood competes in a global market," Knapp said. "And for the moment they are working in our favor."

Seafood futures

Alaska's world reputation for fisheries "staying power" puts its seafood in good position for future markets. So says industry veteran Howard Johnson, advisor to seafood clients in the US and abroad.

"Alaska is clearly well positioned. I hear more and more about issues of sustainability from conservation groups and the industry," Johnson said.

Major companies around the world have pledged to source seafood only from well managed fisheries.

'That is playing real well in Europe, and could still play well in the U.S.," Johnson said.
Alaska salmon, pollock, halibut and sablefish fisheries have merited worldwide recognition for sustainable management. Crab, cod and flounder fisheries are also in the certification pipeline

The Alaska "brand" for seafood healthfulness and purity is another plus.

"Particularly when we have these issues of imports and contamination and so forth," Johnson said.

Johnson predicts consumers will be paying more for seafood.

"I think we're in for a period of higher seafood prices, which is good for Alaska, but not so good for consumers. What may happen is more products destined for the Lower 48 might wind up in Europe, because they can pay more for it," he said.

Johnson said does not think the global warming concern of 'travel miles' will play against Alaska seafood purchases.

"When you think about it - 81 percent of the seafood we consume in the U.S. is imported. So in terms of food miles from Alaska to the States, it's not a very big deal compared to food miles from China, or Thailand or Viet Nam."

Seafood economists predict demand will approach a whopping 90 billion pounds within 20 years ­ and most of it will come from aquaculture.

"The only place we will be able to get that extra production is from aquaculture - no matter how well we manage our wild fisheries," Johnson said. "You have to be realistic. More people are asking 'where are we going to get our fish 20 years from now.' They need to know because they need to plan their businesses.

Johnson said he believes Alaska is missing the boat.

"Alaska has the processing infrastructure in place. There should be a way for aquaculture to complement what's happening on the wild side. And I suspect someday it will probably happen," he said.

The distinction between the wild capture and farmed seafood business is becoming blurred, Johnson said, and more companies will continue to expand into both.
" From a business standpoint it makes good sense. Fishermen in Alaska might not like the idea, but if companies want to grow their business, they have to play both sides," he said.

Looking ahead, on most fronts the Alaska seafood business is looking good, Johnson said. He pointed to the recent purchase of Icicle Seafoods by San Francisco-based investment company Fox Paine as an example.

"That reflects that the investment community is looking to the seafood industry with some favor, which in the past they have not really done," he said.

"And if you've got an investment company owning a company that is heavily involved in Alaska seafood processing, their perspective is going to be a bit different than the founders of that company that started as Alaska fishermen."

Find Johnson's 14th annual report on the U.S. seafood industry at .

Solar salmon scores award

The first solar powered salmon fishery at Lummi Island, WA won the 2007 Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention and Sustainable Practices. It went to members of the Lummi Island Wild SalmonCo-op who used solar panels this summer to fuel the banks of batteries that power their reef net winches.

"Even on a cloudy day, there was never a time when we were low on power. It was fantastic," said co-op spokesman Ian Kerouac. Reefnetting is the world's oldest form of salmon fishing. Check it out at

Crab watch

Bering Sea crabbers last week set a minimum price of $4.35/lb for red king crab, and say they won't fish for less. The base price is was $3.50 last year, which settled out at $3.93 after all the sales were made. Crabbers say the price boost is realistic due to a big decrease in supply and increase in demand. The Bristol Bay fishery starts Monday but crabbers won't cast off without a price settlement. "Fishermen are not compelled to being fishing on Oct. 15, so a stand down is certainly a possibility" said Greg White, a negotiator for the crabbers.

More AK fish goes green

Alaska cod and flounder fisheries could be the next to merit an 'official' stamp of approval from the international Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as being well managed. The eco-labels are becoming increasingly important in world markets, where major buyers have pledged to source seafood only from sustainable fisheries. Alaska salmon, pollock, halibut and sablefish have all merited the MSC label.

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation is taking the lead for MSC certification for all sectors of the Pacific cod fishery.

The newly formed Best Use Coalition, a fishing cooperative, is sponsoring a similar effort for the Alaska flatfish industry. Flatfish (like sole) might have a much lower profile, but their dockside value of $163 million in 2006 makes them third in value behind pollock and cod.


Kodiak-based Laine Welch has been reporting news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and radio for 20 years. Fish Factor appears in 15 newspapers and websites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on more than 25 stations across Alaska.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Contact msfish[AT]
A publication fee is required.

E-mail your news, photos & letters to

SitNews ©2007
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska