Wild Alaska seafood sold by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Association (ASMI) through its Global Food Aid Program already feeds millions of beneficiaries of federal and international food aid programs. ASMI’s Bruce Schactler hopes to feed many more in 2024.
“We are dealing with product development, new generations of people eating more seafood and we are trying to distribute seafood to 30 million to 40 million people who have never eaten seafood before,” Schactler said in his Nov. 2 report to ASMI’s “All Hands on Deck” conference in Anchorage.
Schactler, who leads ASMI’s Global Food Aid Program, told the conference that through October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had purchased over $205 million in wild Alaska seafood.
“Last year was a record year of purchasing seafood and we are 30% above that this year,” he said. “The big focus is to get USDA to buy more seafood, more products.”
The program is a partnership of the state of Alaska and its fishing industry to develop new customers for Alaska seafood products through federal food and nutrition programs that reach millions of food aid consumers in the U.S. and around the globe.
Schactler and nutrition science and policy consultant Nina Schlossman said in their report to the conference that they’re planning on continued large Alaska seafood purchases in early fiscal year 2024 to make sure there’s a steady and an uninterrupted supply for USDA clients.
“We will continue to position wild Alaska seafood as the ‘go to’ option for the USDA, as it navigates evolving science and policy and responds to political and economic priorities with its program offerings,” they said.
“To that end,” they added, “we continue to advise and educate the various USDA agencies on all aspects of Alaska’s wild seafood products from harvest to product supply to consumer demand.”
USDA currently has six consumer-ready Alaska seafood species in 13 product forms in frozen or shelf stable options for its clients.
These include Pacific rockfish fillets, wild Alaska pollock sticks, fillet portions and nuggets, plus frozen block that is transformed into consumer products by school districts, plus canned pink salmon, canned and fillet portions of sockeye salmon, canned keta salmon and fillet portions of coho salmon.
Schactler and Schlossman are also working to get wild Alaska pollock nuggets into the school lunch program food catalog, as well as keta and pink salmon fillet portions. They said they’re also hoping to introduce new products for domestic food aid programs offered by USDA, including salmon nuggets, shelf stable forms of wild Alaska pollock, such as surimi and canned, plus consideration of new species like Pacific cod.
The economic challenges they face, meanwhile, continue to be considerable.
All sectors of Alaska seafood have been experiencing a decline in demand due to general recessionary trends worldwide, as well as the lingering market supply disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effects are significantly magnified by an abundance of cheap Russian products flooding the market at prices as much as 60% lower than those in 2022. Overall marketplace distortions, inflation, a stronger U.S. dollar and loss of global share from unfair trade competition led by Russia and China are the biggest factors, Schactler and Schlossman said.