COMMENTARY: Seafood industry touts its economic impacts to federal lawmakers
For the first time ever, seafood industry reps were invited to brief policy makers in Congress on jobs and economic opportunities. The group presented a panel discussion March 22 called “Seafood Jobs in America” to the Senate Oceans Caucus and an audience of 80 people.
According to Seafood.com, it included representatives of 12 senators and even one from the White House, plus a large contingent from the environmental community. Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich both made opening remarks at the event.
“Nobody else has really had this conversation,” said Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, director of the National Seafood Marketing Coalition, which represents 75 industry groups. “We need them to realize what a big deal it is. We’re talking $115 billion in sales, 1.2 million jobs, and actual income to people involved in the industry of more than $30 billion. This is a big deal and we want them to understand that.”
Panel members included Jack Brooks, CEO of J.M. Clayton Co. of Maryland, a blue crab processor; Natalie Webster of the American Albacore Fishing Association in California; David Veal, director of American Shrimp Processors Association of Mississippi; Dane Somers, director of the Maine Lobster Council; and Phil Lansing, a seafood economist and Bristol Bay fisherman.
The panel pointed out that America’s seafood industry has a 14 percent market share right now, with the remainder coming from seafood imports.
“The reverse of that is we have an 86 percent market opportunity here,” Schactler said in a phone interview.
The Marketing Coalition aims to obtain long term funding from, among other things, duties and tariffs collected on seafood imports. The money would be distributed among five locally run regional boards to help grow consumer demand for U.S. seafood. Coalition studies show that seafood industry jobs could increase by 20 percent the value in some areas and fisheries could double.
Schactler has been traveling the nation for more than two years to promote the national group’s message. He said the lack of knowledge in Congress about the seafood industry is shocking.
“I had no idea it was as invisible as it actually is. They had no idea of the dependence of coastal America on local seafood,” he said. “They’ve never looked at a boat as a small business. The more aware they are and the more people who get involved, they will understand a little help goes a long way, and the return on investment will be unbelievable.”
Tax credit a business tool
Innovation can be time consuming and costly, but it also can spark private sector investments, business expansion and opportunities. That’s the intent of a bill before the Alaska Legislature that gives a 20 percent income tax credit for research and development conducted by corporate taxpayers in Alaska.
“For seafood companies that could include any work on increased protein recovery and new uses for fish protein or other fish products,” said Wanetta Ayers, director of the Division of Economic Development at the state Commerce Department. “For example, one well known project is work that’s been done at Washington State University using microwave sterilization on fish proteins and that is moving into commercialization now. All of those kinds of activities where you take basic research and movie it into the marketplace would be eligible under both the federal and state credit.”
Thirty-eight other states offer the tax credit, which includes biofuels and wind power projects, building or improving facilities or software technologies and applying for patents. Ayers said the credit can also help processors comply with new rules from the EPA.
“We know that the seafood processing sector is likely going to face new regulations from the EPA and anything they can do to improve their processes and reduce effluent would be eligible,” she said.
Along with the private sector, university research also is eligible for the tax credit.
“We want to see those kinds of tools put in place that transfers basic research and moves it out into the marketplace,” Ayers said. “In all likelihood it would create a whole new sector of businesses that are helping serve that purpose — whether it’s providing scientific work or engineering — all kinds of activities that would be needed to support this R&D activity.”
The tax credit bill, House Bill118, has a hearing by Senate Resources this week. Ayers hopes they vote to put the R&D tax credit in Alaska’s toolbox.
“In order for us to be competitive and capture some of the research and development work already happening in other places that is benefitting the seafood sector,” she said. “We’d like to have that work done here in Alaska as well.”
Researchers are hoping to better understand fish distributions by recording the sounds they make. Many fish make identifiable sounds, and it offers potential for research and management. The most recent sound discovered – fish farts!
According to ScienceShot, a service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a team from the University of South Florida picked up the barely audible, cricket-like noises using a robot called a glider that sampled ocean sounds in Tampa Bay. The sounds lasted throughout the day and night, and were most likely groups of menhaden and herring releasing gas from their swim bladders.
Of the 30,000 fish species in the world oceans, researchers believe fewer than 1,000 have been recorded. They know that the tiny cusk eel can sound like a jackhammer. And for years the mating calls of cod fish have wreaked havoc for the Norwegian navy, because the love sounds are similar to enemy submarines.
Scientists believe the underwater sound scape can tell a lot about what’s out there, and what they are doing. By mapping these sounds, the researchers hope to get a better picture of species distributions and likely spawning areas.
Salmonstock is being held Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 in Ninilchik. This year’s headliners are: Leftover Salmon, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Ozomotli, Todd Snider, Clinton Fearon and Great American Taxi. The event is hosted by the Renewable Resources Coalition. (See more at www.Salmonstock.org)
Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit alaskafishfactor.com for more information or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.