The laws in the 2007 U.S. Farm Bill, which governs and bankrolls our nation's food growers and feeding programs, are revised by Congress every five years. The version they are preparing to pass this year leaves farmers of the sea and wild caught fish off the list.
"Wild fish does not qualify as an agricultural product," said Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, a fisherman turned expert at finding language in federal laws that plays against Alaska's salmon industry.
"Therefore, in the eyes of the USDA, wild fish is not an agricultural product so we don't qualify for marketing programs, infrastructure and operating loans, and all kinds of things that support the food producers in the U.S. - including farmed fish," he added.
Schactler said the problem stems from official language that states agricultural products must be produced in a "controlled environment."
"The original Agricultural Marketing Act of 1937 included fish, but 'controlled environment' language was added in the 1960s. We're trying to get that changed," he said.
Schactler, who works as a fisheries specialist with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said getting wild fish included in the Farm Bill is a top priority of Alaska's congressional delegation.
"We don't want anything special, and we're not trying to take anything from anybody. But we are no different from the guy who's selling farmed cat fish or sugar beets. We are all food producers and we just want to be on equal footing."
Reforms to the Farm Bill failed in the House, which passed off its version to the U.S. Senate in July. Many are critical that it contains no substantive changes to the current system of programs and subsidies that favor large corporate growers of corn, wheat and soybeans. A revealing article by Time Magazine (Nov. 12, "Down on the Farm) shows that ¾'s of all government subsidies go to just 10 percent of U.S. farms. North Dakota, Texas and Iowa rake in the most cash. California - the state that produces more than half of the nation's fruits and vegetables - receives just nine percent of federal subsidies.
"Americans have begun to ask why the farm bill is subsidizing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils at a time when rates of diabetes and obesity among children are soaring," said Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice Seafood.
The best, and perhaps last, hope of getting wild fish included in the Farm Bill lies in a bi-partisan Senate amendment called the FRESH Act (S. 2228), Hartnell said. (FRESH stands for Farm, Ranch, Equity, Stewardship and Health.)
The Bush Administration's 2007 farm bill would spend $10 billion less than the 2002 farm bill.
Prices paid so far to most Alaska salmon fishermen are lackluster. Numbers just released by the State reflect the statewide averages and do not include bonuses or post season adjustments after all the fish sales are made.
Early estimates show Chinook salmon fetched $2.68/lb at the docks, compared to $3.03 last year. (Winter kings are still being caught in Southeast and prices have more than doubled.) Prices for sockeye salmon dropped by one penny to 76-cents a pound. Sockeye prices dipped or remained the same in all regions except Kodiak, where they increased from 84 to 91cents.
Coho salmon prices took a big dive to 83 cents, down from $1.04 last year. Pinks bumped up a penny to 16-cents. Chums dropped two cents, averaging 30 cents at the docks.
Alaska's 2007 fishery produced 212 million salmon, the 4th largest since statehood. The estimated value of $374 million is an increase of nearly $28 million from 2006.
Hundreds of Alaskans are heading to Seattle this week to attend the Pacific Marine Expo. Now in its 41st year, Expo is bucking a downsizing trend in trade shows and has actually expanded to one of its largest shows ever.
"We have 440 companies participating and 64,000 feet of exhibit space. That's an increase of 3,000 feet. Business is up for everyone and vendors are looking happy," said Bob Callahan, show director for Diversified Business Communications which produces Expo.
Expo was "rebranded" a few years ago to include all aspects of the commercial marine industry - fishing boats, workboats, tugs, barges and passenger vessels.
Callahan said a goal is "to liven up the show floor by each day have something new going on." Some notables: winners of the $50,000 Smart Gear competition, galley cooking demos, Fishermen's Rodeo, 'Deadliest Catch' captains roundtable, and the U.S. Coast Guard will award several fishing boats for their help during the May rescue effort of the cruise ship Empress of the North at Icy Strait. Expo runs Nov. 15-17 at the Qwest Center. Find the full line up of events and vendors at www.pacificmarineexpo.com
American Seafoods Company will donate a total of $30,000 next month to Alaskan organizations and programs that target housing, hunger, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. Find grant applications at www.americanseafoods.com or contact Kim Lynch at 206-256-2659 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Deadline to apply is Nov. 21. ASC's Community Advisory Board will choose grant recipients on Dec. 4 in Anchorage. Since 1997 American Seafoods Company has awarded more than $600,000 to rural Alaska projects and programs.