Nat Herz/Northern Journal: AK Senate proposes $7.5 million aid package for struggling fish processors

Senate hopes money "will trickle down from processors" by getting rid of inventory "so they can buy more fish this year." Will also pay for freezers for community storage.

by | April 19, 2024

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Money will go to SeaShare to buy out “an oversupply” of seafood from last year’s harvest

By Nat Herz/April 18,2024

The Alaska Senate has proposed a new aid package for the state’s fish processing companies — some of which have been teetering among a crash in prices that’s caused an industry-wide crisis.

The Senate, in its capital budget passed last week, included the $7.5 million grant to a nonprofit organization called SeaShare. Most of the cash would go toward buying out what SeaShare calls an “oversupply” of seafood from last year’s harvest, which it says is costing processing companies money to store in freezers.

The program would add to more than $100 million in salmon and Alaska pollock purchases — more than 1,500 truck loads — announced earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The seafood purchases would then be donated to Alaska food programs and food banks, she said. A smaller share of the grant would also pay for the purchase of new freezers in communities around the state that could store more fish in the future.

“The seafood industry is hurting right now,” Lindoff said. “Just making some cash sales is very vital.”

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman, one of the co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee, said the proposal is without precedent in his two decades in the Legislature. But it comes in response to what he described as an “unprecedented market collapse in price across virtually all fisheries.”

The SeaShare program is one of dozens of grants, totaling tens of millions of dollars, recently proposed by the Senate as part of the chamber’s capital budget.

The Senate’s overall proposal would boost capital budget spending to $450 million in state unrestricted general funds, $133 million higher than Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s latest proposal.

To take effect, the Senate’s proposals still have to be approved by the state House, then survive Dunleavy’s veto pen.

But the inclusion of the $7.5 million SeaShare program in the Senate’s proposal is the latest indication that the seafood industry’s appeals for assistance are getting traction.

Alaska’s congressional delegation last year also successfully persuaded the Biden administration to block U.S. imports of Russian fish, which processing companies said was undercutting American prices. And the state Legislature is also considering up to $10 million more in this year’s budget to support the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

The seafood industry does need help eliminating the backlog of inventory that’s built up, but benefits in aid programs should flow not just to processing companies but also to harvesters and fishing communities. All three are critical aspects of the seafood industry.

Theresa Peterson, fisheries policy director, Alaska Marine Conservation Council

Peterson was irked when the processing company that long bought fish from her family’s Kodiak salmon setnet site recently announced that it would stop its purchases — leaving fishermen scrambling to find a new buyer. Around the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would be purchasing more than $65 million in salmon from the same processing company.

Stedman said that it’s hard to directly subsidize individual fishermen given the differences between them — some may face loan payments, while others have their boats and permits paid off.

But the Senate hopes their proposal will trickle down from processors by “getting rid of the inventory,” so that they can buy more fish this year, he said.

Lindoff, from SeaShare, said that her organization hasn’t yet identified the companies that would benefit from the new $7.5 million program. But one of the businesses that she spoke with during the process of drafting the proposal was fisherman-owned.

“They’re sitting on a lot of inventory that’s going to hurt them in the upcoming se

SeaShare would use the state money to support smaller Alaska processing companies that couldn’t match the scale of the federal purchases, said Hannah Lindoff, the organization’s executive director. 

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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