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Consumer preference for wild-caught seafood on upswing

Chef Patrick Hoogerhyde of Bridge Seafood in Anchorage demonstrates how to fillet a sockeye salmon. (Tara Young / Alaska Dispatch News)

Seafood sales at American retail stores are on an upswing and should remain that way for the foreseeable future. Better yet for commercial fishermen, demand for fish caught wild in the U.S. showed the biggest gains of all.

That's good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 65 percent of wild-caught seafood to our nation's supermarkets (95 percent of wild-caught salmon).

A new survey by trade magazine Progressive Grocer showed that retail seafood sales rose nearly 40 percent over the past year, and 56 percent predicted an upturn in seafood sales this year.

U.S. wild-caught seafood topped the list for the highest demand increase by nearly 58 percent of retail respondents, especially products from Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

A breakdown of this year's Retail Seafood Review by Seafood Source showed that wild-caught seafood was perceived as being of higher quality, and 53 percent said wild tastes better than farm-raised fish.

The review said Americans are buying less beef, chicken and pork due to health concerns and issues linked to animal welfare and environmental impacts.

Analysts at FoodDive said, "This gives retailers an excellent opportunity to grow the seafood category, but much work is needed in terms of advertising and consumer education to get customers to bite."

To lure more seafood shoppers, experts advised sellers to increase in-store signage and make smarter use of digital coupons and promotions.

The Retail Seafood Review said that temporary price reductions were the most popular and effective form of promotion. Asked what they would like from seafood suppliers to improve sales, respondents suggested "lower pricing on less popular fish to get people to try it."

Fast-food fish

Here's a fun take on fast-food fish sandwiches with some biting feedback.   Writers at BusinessInsider sampled seven sandwiches, with Arby's Crispy Fish ranking last "with no taste or joy."

Dairy Queen's Alaska cod sandwich is described as "a fillet slicked by a spill of tartar sauce that would offend even the Exxon Valdez disaster."

Burger King's fish sandwich is "gray and sad." McDonald's is "boring."

White Castle's fish slider is crispy but "bland and sorry looking." Popeye's Seafood Po'boy has "more breading than fish."

The winner? Wendy's premium cod fillet, which the Insiders said reminded them of an "honest-to-goodness fish fry."

Salmon at center stage

Many Alaskans will tell you they want to protect our wild stocks of salmon, but how to do that brings different perspectives. A Salmon Policy Forum in Juneau will advance the discussion, with a focus on the Alaska laws that protect salmon habitat.

"This forum is not intended to push any agenda. It is educational and informational and a way to get ideas on the table and have a more in-depth conversation," said Lindsey Bloom, manager of the Salmon Habitat Information Project for United Fishermen of Alaska, a forum co-sponsor.

Panel discussions will include historians, scientists, managers, miners and, hopefully, legislators. The forum is 5:30-8:30 p.m. April 11  at the Rockwell Ballroom. It is co-sponsored by the Center for Salmon and Society at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Salmon Connect.

Crew cash

Fishermen can get cash back for their crew license fees — if they purchase them online.

It's the first year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is providing the online opportunity to replace paper licenses being purchased from vendors. It's more convenient for customers, and switching from paper to e-licenses saves the state cash.

"If we were able to achieve 100 percent online sales for licenses, it would save the department a couple hundred thousand dollars. Even at 50 percent sales, it's a big savings for us," said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the commercial fisheries division in Juneau.

Crew licenses are the latest addition to ADF&G's online store, which offers print-at-home options for nearly every Alaska fishing and hunting license.

The department hopes to lure fishermen to the online store with 10 free crew license giveaways.

"If you're randomly selected, the cost of the license will be refunded to you," Bowers said, adding that the deadline is Oct. 6.

Annual commercial crew licenses cost $60 for Alaska residents and $277 for non-residents. Seven-day licenses cost $30 for both residents and non- residents.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based commercial fishing columnist. Contact her at


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