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Begich to Introduce National Seafood Marketing Effort

Noting the success of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is introducing legislation to create a national seafood marketing and development effort to increase value and create jobs in the seafood industry.  The proposal was drafted by a nationwide coalition and is supported by 75 fishing groups and others from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. The legislation is being finalized and will be introduced when the Senate reconvenes next month.

“Alaska fishermen have long benefitted from ASMI’s work on market research and promotion of our quality seafood products both at home and abroad,” Begich said.  “Other regions have similar efforts but this is a good time to step up these efforts with a national program to improve seafood quality and new product development, conduct market research and better promote and respond when challenges like natural disasters affect to the industry.  A national marketing and development program could help boost seafood sales and mean more jobs and stronger economies for our coastal communities.”

Begich announced the legislation today at a news conference at Copper River Seafoods in Anchorage. They were joined by Scott Blake, owner of Copper River Seafood, Bruce Schactler, Director of the National Seafood Marketing Coalition, David Vel from the American Shrimp Processors Association, Beth Casoni from the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, Ray Riutta, Director of ASMI, and Arni Thompson from the United Fishermen of Alaska.

According to the coalition, American seafood products are increasingly forced to compete in the worldwide seafood market and other sources of protein. The U.S. seafood industry struggles to maintain a healthy business profile.  Prices paid fishermen are often too low to sustain many domestic fisheries.  Fishing jobs are being lost and fishery dependent communities suffer.  Many processors do not have the funds available for market research and development of new products.  Consumers can become confused by mixed messages regarding the health and safety of seafood, and turn to other forms of protein.

The coalition’s proposal would create a National Seafood Marketing Fund to provide a long-term and sustainable source of funds for the marketing effort.  The legislation includes:

 

·         $50 million annually into the fund but finding a sustainable source of income will be critical to the success of the program; 

·         Of available funds, 80 percent would be distributed equally between the regional boards and the remainder distributed based on actual seafood production;

·         Establishes five Regional Seafood Marketing Boards to manage and direct these dedicated funds; and

·         Members of the boards would include harvesters, large and small processors and others involved in the seafood marketing, food service, transportation and retail sectors.

“It is in the nation’s best interest to maintain a strong seafood industry for both the health of our people and the health of our economy,” Begich said.  “Encouraging marketing activities such as quality improvement, market research, new product development, infrastructure, and promotion will increase the consumption and demand for seafood in the U.S., increase the value of our industry, help grow the economy and boost U.S. jobs.”

 “America's seafood industry contributes over $145 billion in economic activity to this nation's economy and generates 1.4 million jobs.  Sadly, our industry's overall share of the international market has declined, causing a loss of jobs and of economic benefits.  Creating a seafood marketing and development program will reverse that trend and lead to increased jobs and economic activity in the United States.  The return in terms of jobs and economic benefits will far outweigh the money spent on a marketing program,” said Bruce Schactler.

“This National Marketing and Development Program has the support of over 75 organizations and States, nationwide. The need for this program cannot be overstated and the opportunity it presents will lead to increased value of this national resource and will add a great many jobs to  America that depends on the Seafood industry in a big way,” said Kevin Adams of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.   

In 2009, the most current year for which data is available, U.S. commercial fishermen landed 8 billion pounds of fish and shellfish worth $3.9 billion at the dock. Overall seafood sales totaled $116 billion and the industry provided one million jobs nationwide including the harvesting, processing and retail sectors.  The state of Alaska produces 50 to 60 percent of the nation’s seafood harvest every year.

Begich noted the seafood industry often suffers when disasters occur, both natural and man-made, like Hurricane Katrina or the Gulf oil spill. A mature and long-term marketing program allows for a timely and effective response during these troubled times which minimizes market damage.

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