Alaska's seafood could get a marketing boost as part of a national effort to spread the word about American ocean products.
A coalition of 75 fishing-related organizations and states are supporting new legislation to enhance seafood marketing throughout the nation and abroad.
Sen. Mark Begich announced proposed legislation at a press conference Aug. 24 that would spend $50 million per year to market American seafood. The legislation is still being finalized, and will be introduced when the senate reconvenes in September.
Begich, D-Alaska, said the initiative, "will bring forward a new way to market an incredible product."
Begich said the effort will work toward getting seafood from all over the country -- from Gulf of Mexico shrimp to New England lobster -- onto American and international plates.
Selling seafood will, in turn, "promote industry and create jobs in the U.S. and enhance local economies and be able to ensure sustainable fisheries," Begich said.
Begich announced the legislation at Copper River Seafoods in Anchorage and was joined by others from the National Seafood Marketing Coalition.
Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, director of the coalition, said he thought a national marketing effort could revitalize the seafood industry.
"There's great opportunity for us to expand and to bring more volume," Schactler said.
Schactler said the U.S. seafood industry has needed such an effort for a long time. Only 15 percent of the seafood eaten in America is produced domestically, he said.
Begich said the legislation could increase that amount, and also boost sales of American seafood in foreign markets.
"This is a great American job creator," Begich said. "You're harvesting from our own lands, our own waters."
Legislation creating the national coalition is modeled after the 2010 Travel Promotion Act, Begich said, which took two years to realize.
Funding is still in the works, though Begich said he's looking for a source, such as duties, that would not add to taxpayers' bills.
The money would be used by five regional seafood marketing boards, established by the legislation, which would include harvesters, processors and others involved in the industry.
The legislation also draws on the record of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, which is paid for by a combination of state and industry funds.
Schactler said that the success Alaska had at bringing the salmon industry back from the brink when farmed salmon depressed global prices could be replicated in other industries facing challenges.
Outgoing ASMI Executive Director Ray Riutta, who is retiring in December, agreed.
"I think Alaska's a good example of the fact that marketing does work," Riutta said.
Riutta said marketing Alaska salmon a decade ago helped increase the value for fishermen four-fold, without increasing the size of the harvest.
Such a success could revitalize coastal America, Begich said.
The national marketing effort represents a unified effort to market an American product, Begich said. It brings together various regional entities, including gulf fisheries, Great Lakes representatives, and others.
"We find it pretty exciting to now be moving ahead, to create national partnerships," said Arni Thomson, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.
By MOLLY DISCHNER
Alaska Journal of Commerce