ASMI board approves $21.3 million budget for 2013


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Chef Christopher Vane, of Crush Wine Bistro in Anchorage, was crowned as winner of the Great Alaska Seafood Cook Off, by Lt. Gov. Meade Treadwell. Vane and five other competitors in the May 14 event had one hour to prepare and “plate” six servings of their chosen recipes for a panel of six judges. Vane’s white troll king salmon pinwheels won him the right to represent Alaska at a national seafood cook off in New Orleans later this year.

Bob Tkacz/For the Journal

The board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute approved a $21.3 million budget on May 15 for the fiscal year starting July 1.

It also indicated plans to release, by May 18, a definitive statement reconfirming the decision of producers accounting for most of the state’s annual salmon harvest that they have no intentions to continue as clients of the Marine Stewardship Council eco-label after the current certification expires this October.

The statement is intended to squelch rumors — circulating mainly in Germany and other European markets — that the April announcement that the Seattle-based Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association would take over as the MSC’s client for its sustainability certification of the Alaska salmon fishery would renew processors’ use of the label.

“I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” said Ray Riutta, ASMI executive director, after the board meeting.

Eight processors, handling upwards of 75 percent of the annual Alaska salmon harvest, have declared their support for ASMI’s responsible fisheries management, or RFM, certification program, grounded in the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s code of conduct for responsible fisheries.

Five of those companies, Trident, Icicle, Ocean Beauty and Peter Pan Seafoods and Kwik’Pak Fisheries, occupy the five processor seats on the ASMI board.

The remaining three outfits, Alaska General Seafoods, E & E Foods and North Pacific Seafoods, plus many of the 34 other licensed Alaskan processors, are being marshaled to endorse the ASMI certification.

Pending the statement by the larger group the ASMI board issued a “place-holder” statement on May 14 declaring that the RFM certification “is needed for competition in the marketplace to avoid a monopolistic lock by a single entity on what is and what is not a sustainably managed fishery. “

The monopoly reference was to the MSC because some German buyers have said they will only buy wild salmon products bearing its eco-label and because of its tactics.

“Trade and (non-government organizations) are concerned of being attached by MSC,” said Mike Carroll, the US business manager for Global Trust, in a slide presentation at the ASMI board meeting.

Based in Ireland, Global Trust manages ASMI’s RFM program and is one of several auditing companies available to MSC clients.

ASMI board member Brian Wallace, a seine boat skipper from Juneau and member of the PSVOA, was headed to the group’s May 17 board meeting to, “get them to drop their role in the (MSC) clientship.”

“What I intend to do at PSVOA is make sure that the board has all of the germane and pertinent information that I have about the rationale and reasonings for the RFM and why the State of Alaska is onside with a large majority of the salmon industry because of these facts,” he said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was the MSC’s client for its first certification of the state’s salmon fishery in 2000. It decided in 2008 to drop that role largely because of what was seen as attempts to interfere with its salmon management and, with the Parnell Administration, has become a vocal supporter of the ASMI initiative.

Gov. Sean Parnell and ADFG Commissioner Cora Campbell have visited European buyers and delivered speeches at the International Boston Seafood Show and European Seafood Exposition, in March and April respectively, in support of the RFM certification.

“I’m very, very proud of our state and the governor and the commissioner for their commitment to this industry,” said Joe Bundrant, ASMI board chairman and head of Trident Seafoods on May 15. “We just said we need your help and they have jumped in, both feet, and given 110 percent support making sure this message is communicated clearly and to make sure Alaska maintains control of its fishery management.”

Riutta spent two weeks meeting European buyers before the expo there and the ASMI budget includes plans for a new three-year, $3 million promotional campaign that will include an indirect defense of the RFM certification.

“It’s not a sustainability promotion, but as sustainability is going to be front and center it’s part of it,” Riutta said. “But we’re focusing on two specific markets. One of them is consumers in the U.S. and then the other is in Europe, primarily focused in the U.K. and Germany.”

The promotion will include all Alaskan seafood products with two-thirds of spending in the U.S. market, with digital and print media.

“Digital would be the anchor and that’s based upon the target audience,” said Steve Schiedermeyer, head of Schiedermeyer & Associates, ASMI’s contract advertising firm.

ASMI’s total budget for fiscal year 2013 is $21.5 million, up from $19.8 million in the current year thanks to strong seafood prices.

Total funding includes $10.56 million from producers of Alaskan seafood products, $7.8 million in state general funds, $4.5 million from the federal Market Access Program for international promotions, and $2 million from materials sales and other sources.

Legislative appropriation of the monies included directions to hold $3.4 million in reserve.

The domestic budget includes $2 million each for food service and retail promotions and $1 million for consumer advertising and public relations. International marketing, including industry matching funds and the federal dollars gets a total $7.7 million, down from $8 million in the current fiscal year because of cut in federal funding.

Among the 21 countries where ASMI operates Japan tops the budget with $1.5 million, or 19.5 percent of the total. European spending totals $3.2 million, 43.3 percent, split among northern, southern, western and central regional efforts. Marketing in China will get $925,000, 12 percent with $500,000 for Brazil, where ASMI opened its first South American office last year.

While not formally announced, news that Riutta is resigning after 10 years as ASMI’s executive director was also disclosed at the meeting. A retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral, Riutta will remain at his post through the end of this year.

Advertising for a new director will begin immediately with himself, Bundrant and vice chairman Kevin Adams serving as a search committee, Riutta said. The full board will interview and chose from the finalists with the hope that a formal announcement of his replacement can be made at ASMI’s consumer advisory panel meeting in Kodiak in August.

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