FISH FACTOR: Tariff relief payment applications now open through Dec. 14

  • Neptune jerky made from Alaska pollock comes in four flavors and reviews on Amazon say it’s not fishy and the texture is similar to beef products. It’s also available online and at 70 retail outlets. (Photo/Courtesy/Neptune)

Alaska fishermen can increase their federal trade relief funds by adding higher poundage prices for 15 fish and shellfish species. While it’s welcomed, the payouts are a band-aid on a bigger and ongoing problem.

Through Dec. 14, fishermen can apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) if their bottom line has been hurt by the Trump Administration’s ongoing trade standoffs, primarily with China.

“STRP is part of a federal relief strategy to support fishermen and other producers while the administration continues to work on free, fair and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets to help American producers compete globally,” said a USDA fact sheet.

The damages to fishermen are calculated as the difference with a trade tariff and the baseline without it based on 2019 catches.

For cod, for example, that adds up to an extra 14 cents per pound. So, a fisherman who had cod landings last year of 375,000 pounds would multiply that by 0.14 for a trade relief payment of $52,500.

Salmon fishermen can add 16 cents per pound across the board. For Alaska crabbers, 47 cents per pound can be added to 2019 catches for Dungeness, king crab, snow crab and Tanners.

Geoduck divers can add 76 cents to their total poundage. It’s 10 cents for sablefish, Atka mackerel and Pacific Ocean perch, 15 cents for flounders, sole and turbot, 4 cents for herring, and an extra one penny per pound for Alaska pollock.

Eligible fisherman can fill out a “2020 Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) Application,” found at www.farmers.gov and at USDA Farm Service Agencies. In Alaska there are three locations at Homer, Kenai and the statewide office in Palmer.

Fishermen who have applied reported it was a fairly easy process and took about an hour to complete, according to a statement by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

While the money is a welcomed inclusion for U.S. fishermen, the relief payments do little to advance the administration’s “free, fair and reciprocal trade deals.”

Since 2018, for example, the U.S. has paid a 38 percent tax on average for seafood products going to China, previously Alaska’s biggest buyer.

According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska seafood products were gaining market share prior to the tariffs, with exports to China reaching their highest level in 2017 at $988 million. From 2017 to 2018 the value of Alaska seafood exports to China dropped by $204 million, the largest year-on-year drop on record.

By 2019, Alaska seafood exports to China were at their lowest level since 2010, while China saw a 91 percent increase in global seafood imports during the same time period.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to purchase increasing amounts of seafood from Russia while that country has not reciprocated since 2014 as retaliation against the U.S. and other countries for objecting to its invasion of Ukraine.

Federal trade data show that through July of this year, the U.S. has purchased more than 46.3 million pounds of seafood from Russia valued at nearly $440 million, almost duty free. That’s an increase of 42.6 million pounds valued at nearly $382 million during the same time in 2019.

Most of the Russian products are red king crab, snow crab, cod and sockeye salmon which are lower priced and compete directly with Alaska seafood on supermarket shelves.

Another unfair deal that needs fixing is the Russian-caught/Chinese processed partnership that is growing fast. Last year, it totaled 2 million pounds in the U.S. at a cost of nearly $7 million, said economist Garrett Evridge at the McDowell Group. Most of the halibut comes in through Vancouver, British Columbia to sidestep the tariff between the U.S. and China.

“It’s an amount of volume that is trending higher, and for a relatively low volume fishery and markets like the halibut market in the US, 2 million pounds is pretty material,” Evridge said. “So that’s another thing that we struggle with as we look at Alaska produced Pacific halibut. It’s just another factor that is making that competition pretty difficult.”

Fish board backup

The COVID-19 virus has forced the delay of fisheries meetings planned for this winter in Cordova and Ketchikan until sometime next spring.

Six of the seven Board of Fisheries members voted for the delay during a special teleconference on Sept. 16 and agreed to set a schedule at a mid-October work session. New appointee McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks was missing from the teleconference.

The BOF regulates the management of Alaska’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries in waters out to three miles and focuses on specific regions in three-year cycles. The heavily attended meetings, which can last a few days or weeks, were scheduled in December for Prince William Sound fisheries and January at Ketchikan for the Southeast region. Meetings on hatcheries and statewide shellfish also were scheduled in February and March.

A BOF survey this summer drew 234 responses and showed that only about 20 percent favored in-person meetings; many opted for a delay, and a majority suggested trying to do at least some of the meetings virtually.

At the Oct. 15-16 online work session the board will discuss holding the PWS and Southeast meetings in March, April or May of 2021, depending on the status of the pandemic, and whether or not to consider some management proposals out of cycle. Also on the agenda is the status of board nominees who have not been confirmed.

Chew on this!

Jerky made from Alaska pollock attracted the attention of big backers beginning at a buffet table at Fish 2.0, an annual global gathering of innovators and investors hosted by Stanford University to grow the sustainable seafood sector.

“It was literally the first major set of about 200 samples that we’d ever made of the product. And the samples disappeared in a matter of minutes. It was a pretty amazing moment,” said Nick Mendoza, co-founder and CEO of Neptune, a former marine scientist turned jerky maker near Seattle.

“There were oysters on the half shell and platters of cheese and all this delicious food and the jerky was gone before anything else was really touched. That was kind of the beginning of everything and put some wind in our sails to keep going forward.”

The small company started out in 2018 with west coast rockfish and has since spawned a partnership with American Seafoods Company and industry trade powerhouse, Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP.

“What really sold us on the story of wild Alaska Pollock is what an amazing, regenerative and abundant food source it is that operates sustainably at a large scale,” Mendoza said. “American Seafoods and GAPP teams brought the data to the table in approaching us about it and I was definitely on board, both because it’s a delicious, high quality product and it’s also a great story that I think resonates with people.”

“The most important element in any product launch is to meet consumers where they are,” said Craig Morris, CEO for GAPP. “Neptune’s wild Alaska pollock jerky does just that in two ways: first, by tapping into the incredibly popular high-protein snacking category and second, by delivering the delicious product using e-commerce, thereby quite literally meeting buyers where they are: online.”

Mendoza added that Neptune wants to become the “flagship brand for sustainable seafood snacks.”

“I think it’s inspiring, both as a founder in this space, but also as someone who cares about the future of seafood in our oceans,” he said. “Not only is seafood consumption in general on the rise, but this awareness is a sort of renaissance in making sure that it is coming from a good source, and understanding what your purchases are actually supporting when you’re buying fish.”

The Neptune jerky comes in four flavors and has great reviews on Amazon. Most say it’s not fishy and the texture is similar to beef products. It’s also available online and at 70 retail outlets.

Use the code NEPTUNEJERKY20 for a 20 percent discount.

Fish Debate is on!

The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce the confirmation of the Alaska US Senator candidate debate between Senator Dan Sullivan and Dr. Al Gross, it said in a Friday release.

The fisheries themed debate will occur on Oct. 10 at 5:00 p.m.

In an atypical manner, the debate will take place over Zoom and be live streamed to www.KodiakChamber.com, www.ComFishAK.com, and both the Kodiak Chamber and ComFish Alaska Facebook and YouTube channels, as well as statewide public radio stations.

The moderator will be Rhonda McBride. Send topics or questions to [email protected].

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Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Updated: 
09/23/2020 - 8:58am