"It's exciting," said Ray Riutta, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. "There was a stigma a few years ago that seafood had to be fresh. We've done a good job of changing that perception."
ASMI has seen steady sales growth in its national Cook It Frozen campaign, which for three years has targeted customers directly at retail stores. Riutta is quick to credit U.S. chefs for building consumer confidence in frozen fish. "Nearly 60 percent of Americans eat seafood at restaurants. When they see top notch chefs using frozen Alaska seafood, they're setting a standard that everyone is emulating. And that's translating into acceptance of frozen seafood," Riutta said.
It's also translating into huge transportation savings for Alaska. "Sending fish out frozen equates to pennies or nickels per pound in transportation costs instead of dimes and quarters for fresh," said market analyst Chris McDowell. It also reduces risk in terms of shelf life. "That is a really important value component among big buyers," McDowell added.
Packaged Facts said sales of frozen seafood increased nearly 11 percent at U.S. food outlets through May 2006. Sales totaled nearly $28 billion in 2005; the market is projected to grow to $32 billion by 2010.
On a related note: Intrafish reports that France's #1 salmon importer, Direct Ocean, sold record volumes of frozen Alaska salmon this year as consumers turned away from higher priced farmed fish. The company imported 1,000 metric tons of Alaska salmon (about 2.2 million pounds), or two and a half times more than usual.
Eleven contenders are now vying for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council seat recently vacated by Arne Fuglvog of Petersburg.
The NPFMC oversees fisheries in federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles offshsore. Fuglvog, the only active fishermen on the federal advisory panel, left this month to join Senator Lisa Murkowski's staff in Washington D.C.
The state Office of Boards and Commissions lists council hopefuls as: Joe Childers of Juneau, director of the group Western Gulf of Alaska Fishermen; Duncan Fields is a Kodiak fisherman, attorney and natural resources consultant; John Moller of Juneau is a fisherman and manager of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association. (Those three also currently serve on the Council's advisory panel).
Also on the list - Ben Ellis, director of the Anchorage-based Institute of the North, which studies Arctic lands, seas and resources; Peter Garay of Homer is president of the group Alaska Marine Pilots; Robert Loescher of Juneau is former president and CEO of Sealaska Corp. Walter Sargent of Kodiak is a longtime commercial fisherman; Jeff Stephen is director of the Kodiak-based United Fishermen's Marketing Association; Bruce Tiedeman is a former Prince William Sound fisherman, former director of the Chugach Native Corp., and now manages community relations for the Alaska Energy Authority; Sandra Moller is president and CEO of the Anchorage-based Aleut Enterprise Corp.
The front runner is widely rumored to be longtime fisherman Gerry Merrigan of Petersburg, who is the government affairs officer for Prowler Fisheries.
Governor Murkowski will forward three names to the Secretary of Commerce who will approve the final selection. The governor said the NPFMC seat will be filled prior to the October meeting in Dutch Harbor.
Snow crab gets good report
State managers recently announced a 4.6 percent cut right off the top of the 2006 Bristol Bay red king crab quota due to high levels of highgrading last season. Highgrading is the practice of sorting out only the best of the catch in order to get higher prices and putting the rest back in the water. In the case of king crab, they were sorted according to the appearance of their shells.
But highgrading was not a common practice in the larger Bering Sea snow crab fishery, said state director of commercial fisheries Denby Lloyd. "It doesn't appear that it happened. It might be due to not having the same incentives for sorting, or there may not be the market differentiation for shell condition, or the volumes were different," he said.
Red king crab goes into more high end markets, especially in Japan, where its size and appearance are the most important selling points. Snow crab, on the other hand, goes primarily to less discriminating family style restaurants or buffets, mostly in the U.S. It is a far more differentiated market that accepts clusters of snow crab legs in widely varying sizes.
The Alaska crab industry hopes to soon find ways to broaden the market for king crab, perhaps into picked meat products.