ASMI executive director Tonkavich steps down

  • Alexa Tonkovich was a member of the 2015 Alaska Journal of Commerce Top Forty Under 40. (Photo/Michael Dinneen/For the Journal)

After nine years with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich has resigned.

The organization announced Tonkovich’s departure Nov. 10, though she will stay on as executive director until mid-December while the board of directors searches for a replacement. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in international business and has been accepted to a number of programs in the U.S. and abroad, according to a press release.

“After nine years at ASMI, the timing felt right to further my education and prepare myself for wherever the next steps in my career may lead,” she said in the release.

Tonkovich became executive director in 2015, taking over for former executive director Michael Cerne. Previously, she served as the international director for ASMI. She worked primarily in developing emerging markets in southeast Asia and Brazil, with an office opening in the latter in 2011.

She said the opening of that office as one of the most memorable moments of her time as the international marketing program.

“I love market exploration and expansion,” she said. “There have been a few ups and downs (with Brazil’s economy) … we still see good potential there, particularly with the loss in access to the Chinese market (from retaliatory tariffs).”

She plans to continue her studies in international business, which is a key part of the seafood industry. Depsite the recently souring global trade positions in the U.S. — the nation has been caught up in an escalating trade war with China over a set of tariffs implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration, including on seafood products — Tonkovich said she hopes it isn’t forever.

ASMI has spent years cultivating its relationship with China, but there are potentially other trade relationships on the horizon, too.

“I’m hoping this is just a passing phase,” she said. “…(International trade) really is such an important part of the (seafood) business.”

For now, she said she’s looking to international business schools in London.

The board plans to meet Nov. 19 to discuss appointing a candidate for interim executive director and drafting a notice for recruitment. ASMI Communications Director Jeremy Woodrow said in an email that the board members should have more details about the parameters of the recruitment after that meeting.

“With a heavy heart, the ASMI board accepted Ms. Tonkovich’s resignation,” said ASMI board of directors Chari Jack Schultheis, the general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries. “Her dedication to Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry is unparalleled. While she will be missed, we also support her decisions and wish her the very best in what is sure to be a very bright future.”

ASMI has gone through a number of changes in the past few years, particularly since the budget cuts began in 2015 as the state descended into a fiscal crisis. The organization cut expenses, closed its Seattle office and changed out staff, Tonkovich said.

The industry has changed in her time at ASMI, too, she said — more women are moving up into positions of power, and more people of diverse economic, educational and cultural backgrounds are beginning to step in.

In the future, innovation and product development will continue to be issues for the Alaska seafood industry to keep pace with the world, Tonkovich said. Addressing the graying of the fleet and bringing more young people into the seafood industry is an issue in Alaska as well as the rest of the world that needs to be addressed, she added.

With a degree in Asian studies, Tonkovich said she didn’t originally seek a job in seafood, but is glad for the time she spent there.

“I’ve been so honored and it’s bee such a pleasure (to work with ASMI),” she said. “I really grew up here … the organization is in great hands.”

Times have tightened financially at ASMI. While the organization, a public-private partnership intended to market Alaska wild-harvested seafood, used to receive state funding, the Legislature has been working on eliminating its support from the general fund, zeroing it out in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

This year, the organization plans to request an additional $3.75 million from the Legislature to support programs, according to an Oct. 30 news release from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

The funds would go to support a match for competitive grant funding, according to the release.

“Specifically, this appropriation would bolster the match on a federal grant program, which will strengthen ASMI’s annual application for federal funding,” the release states. “The competitively awarded federal grant for international marketing allows ASMI to market Alaska seafood internationally, funding consumer and trade programs in 30 countries. ASMI competes each year against such national stalwarts as Sunkist Growers, Washington Apples, the Cotton Council Incorporated, and the U.S. Meat Export Federation.”

Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
11/14/2018 - 10:35am

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