In an economy challenged by a global pandemic and rising transportation costs, more Alaska seafood should be processed in the United States and more effort put into increasing domestic consumption, according to veteran Kodiak seafood harvester, processor and marketer Duncan Fields.
“With transportation costs going up, I think there are opportunities for companies to process more seafood in America,” said Fields, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in January to a harvester seat on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Fields, who holds a law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law, began fishing commercially in Alaska in 1960. He is the owner and marketer for Fields Wild Salmon in Kodiak, and is also a fisheries consultant. He has served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and other fisheries related entities, plus a previous stint on the ASMI board from 2004 through 2007.
“We have lots of processing in Alaska, but a lot of that product is exported and reprocessed overseas,” Fields said. “There is a new emphasis in this country on food security, and we can’t operate and promote Alaska seafood without recognizing that there is a political component.”
Close to 90% of the seafood purchased in the United States is imported, including from Russia, a country that does not allow the import of U.S. seafood.
During the summer of 2014, Russia imposed an embargo on all U.S. food products in retaliation for sanctions the U.S. and other Western nations imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions included a ban on Alaska seafood, which at the time amounted to over $61 million in annual sales to Russia, mainly pink salmon roe.
The U.S. government, meanwhile, has continued to allow the import of seafood from Russia, with no limits on those imports. ASMI needs to respond to these challenges, Fields said, and push for labeling crab in America’s retail markets as Russian crab. ASMI also needs to continue to promote domestic consumption opportunities, as well as international marketing, he added.
ASMI, a public-private partnership of the state of Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry, whose mandate is to foster economic development of Alaska seafood, has had a continuing role in international marketing.
“We do more with fewer dollars in marketing than any other country that I’m aware of,” he said. “There are places all over the world with a much larger network of subsidy and advertising funding for the seafood sector.”
Still, ASMI is in line to receive, through the state, a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds allocated nationwide for pandemic economic relief.
“It is always important to evaluate where we are and set some goals on where we want to be in marketing and sales,” Fields said.