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Potential legislative seafood industry task force gets support from Kodiak Island Borough Mayor, OBI Seafoods, and others

The Alaska Senate Finance Committee during 2021 legislative session. (AK Senate Majority/Flickr)
The Alaska Senate Finance Committee during 2021 legislative session. (AK Senate Majority/Flickr)

The Alaska Legislature is planning to create a seafood industry task force that will give recommendations to help sustain the state’s seafood industry. A joint legislative resolution forming the task force, SCR 10, which is sponsored by Republican Senator Gary Stevens of Kodiak, had its first hearing on March 7 in the Senate Finance Committee.

Half a dozen representatives from seafood companies, trade associations, and Alaskan communities spoke in support of creating an industry task force. The state’s seafood industry is in an unprecedented tailspin as seafood companies are selling off plants and halting seasonal operations across Alaska. Trident, Peter Pan and OBI Seafoods all cited poor market conditions as one of the reasons for the closures.

Jeremy Woodrow is the executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). He blamed Russia’s seafood industry for some of the global market issues that are affecting almost all species.

“While Alaska experienced a large 2023 pink salmon harvest, of almost 200,000 metric tons, it’s important to note that Russia harvested over three times as much pink salmon last year. The sheer size of the Russian harvest and the significantly lower value of the Russian ruble has allowed Russia to sell pink salmon and salmon roe to our shared global customers at historically low prices, thus driving down the market value for all salmon species,” Woodrow explained.

Imports of Russian seafood were banned by U.S. Congress in 2022 and then more recently a loophole that still existed in the ban was closed by President Joe Biden. But Woodrow points out that the Alaska seafood industry must still compete with Russia in the global market.

Aside from that, other factors that have led to the current state of affairs include declining consumer demand along with reduced prices and processing facilities for fishermen. Staff from the United Fishermen of Alaska, executive director Tracy Welch, told legislators the state’s seafood industry suffered an estimated loss of $2 billion in 2023.

The Mayor of Kodiak Island Borough, Scott Arndt, was emotional as he described the impact it’s having on his community.
Kodiak is ranked in the top five fishing ports in the country based on weight in pounds of seafood landed.

“We have stress in all species along with all markets for seafood prices. In my 60 years as a resident of Kodiak, I have never seen it this bad. It is scary for a lot of families,” Arndt stated.

Arndt urged legislators to add two additional members to the seven-member task force who could represent Alaska communities that are directly affected by the seafood industry.

Currently, the resolution is written to include two representatives from the United Fishermen of Alaska or the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, four members appointed by the Senate president and speaker of the House, two for each the Senate and House, along with the commissioner of the state Department of Fish & Game, or the commissioner’s designee. A similar fishing task force was created by the Legislature in 2002 and had 16 members to address salmon fishing issues at the time.

The joint legislative task force is still being discussed and the composition of the members is not yet finalized. According to one of Senator Gary Stevens’ staff, the hope is the task force will be established this legislative session and the first meeting would be held by the end of May.