Quid pro quo, tit for tat, eye for an eye.
“If they don’t buy from us, we shouldn’t buy from them,” grumbles the seafood industry in Alaska since 2014, when Russia abruptly banned all food imports from the United States. and several other countries. Then, as now, the confrontation stemmed from the Russian invasion and subsequent takeover of swathes of Ukraine, which drew backlash and severe sanctions.
Yet over the years, U.S. purchases of Russian seafood through 2021 have totaled more than $4.6 billion and counting, according to federal trade data.
The Alaska congressional delegation finally took the first steps to end the trade imbalance. On February 9, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan introduced the United States-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act of 2022, which would ban the import of any Russian seafood into the United States. United until that country ends its ban on buying American seafood.
This was followed by a companion bill (HR 6821) on February 23 by Rep. Don Young demanding the same.
“It’s frustrating to go to a grocery store in the United States and see Russian seafood sold at a much lower price. We hear that from the processors and fishers we work with,” Jeremy said. Woodrow, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said at a recent House Fisheries Committee hearing. “Think crab, pollock, wild salmon, halibut and cod – Russia competes with Alaskan seafood in the world market. Their products are imported and sold cheaply, which reduces the value of Alaskan seafood in our most valuable market, the U.S. And since 2014, the U.S. has seen Russian seafood imports increase by 173%.”
Russia was the eighth-largest exporter of seafood to the United States in 2021, sending nearly 108 million pounds worth $1.2 billion, a 12% increase in volume and 34% in value compared to 2020, Undercurrent News reported.
Russian seafood included about 80 items, but the most valuable were frozen snow crab at nearly 41.5 million pounds worth $509.2 million and 18.8 million pounds of king crab frozen red worth nearly $420 million.
But the proposed ban has caused pushback from an unexpected source: corporate America.
Undercurrent provided analysis by market expert Les Hodges, who said the embargo would eliminate more than 90% of Russian king crab imports and 30% of snow crab imports. This could put a number of companies specializing in these products in danger of bankruptcy.
“Alaska does not have the resources to compensate for this potential loss of product. Production areas for king crab and snow crab are limited. The largest production is in the Russian Far East and the Sea of Barents,” Hodges said, adding, “The United States and other global markets are now dependent on Russian, Canadian and other resources.”
The Russian resource has remained stable at more than 100,000 metric tons (220.5 million pounds) for all crab species combined in recent years. Nearly 70 million pounds of Russian crab were imported by more than 30 U.S. seafood companies in 2021, with an import value of $928.9 million, Hodges said.
He pointed out that king crab and snow crab are an important part of the product mix of many American companies and industries, saying “In 2021, 78% of crab from the Russian Far East was shipped to the North -West, creating many jobs in all areas, from shipping, cold storage, reprocessing and, of course, marketing and sales throughout the United States The damage caused by the adoption of this project would not be limited to importers. Seafood marketing businesses, restaurants, food service, cruise lines, retail and hospitality sectors across the country would suffer. Consumers would lose the opportunity to have king crab and several species of snow crab would simply disappear.
Hodges concluded, “The intent of this bill is good, and I personally support reopening the Russian market to American seafood producers, but that’s not the path to success.”
Small business wins big
Waterbody of Wrangell won the grand prize for its Deep Blue Sea Soak at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood Awards Ceremony Feb. 24 in Juneau. Made with kelp and sea salts, the soak is described as “smelling like that first breath of salty fresh air when you resurface after a skinny swan dip.”
Here are the other winners: In the retail category, Ocean Beauty won first place for its tapas of Echo Falls Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon in Mediterranean Slices; Ketchikan’s Foraged and Found won second place for its Spicy Kelp-based Arrabiata Tomato Sauce, and Barnacle Food’s Alaskan Barbecue Sauce finished third.
For foodservice, Seagrove Kelp Company of Ketchikan won the award for its Alaska-grown ribbon kelp. Trident Seafoods won second and third honors for its SEA LEGS Redi-Shred and Surimi Seafood and Nacho Cheese Dipper.
Waterbody’s Sea Soak also won the Beyond the Plate category, with AlaSkin Dog Treats of Soldotna in second and Trident’s Pure Catch Wild Alaska Salmon Oil in third.
In Bristol Bay’s salmon slot, Ocean Beauty took first and third place for its smoked salmon tapas and salmon wrapped in wild Alaskan cedar/citrus dill; Alaskan Leader Seafoods took second place for its Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon.
For whitefish, Neptune Snacks’ Wild Alaska Cracked Pepper Pollock Jerky took the win, followed by Trident’s Food Truck Inspired Pollock Dill Pickle and Alaskan Leader’s Alaska Black Cod in Japanese Miso Marinade.
All the big winners now head to Seafood Expo North America in Boston at the end of March.
The Alaska Symphony of Seafood New Product Competition has been hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation since 1994.
ComFish Alaska celebrates its 42nd annual trade show in Kodiak March 24-26 and features a range of lively forums offered in-person and online. They include seafood market updates and opportunities, updates on Alaskan crab stocks, impacts of climate change on fishing and communities, training needs for new anglers , using surveys to understand public perceptions, innovation and the future of Alaska’s seafood industry, and federal and state legislative updates. .
Find the list of presentations, exhibitors and community events on www.comfishak.com and on Facebook. Questions? Contact the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce at [email protected]
Kodiak-based Laine Welch writes Fish Factor, a weekly digest of news and opinion about Alaska’s commercial fishing industry that appears in newspapers and
websites around Alaska and
nationally. Contact her at [email protected]