ASMI to research Philippines market at Parnell's request

The first Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute “All Hands” meeting, possibly ever, held in the state also included an unusual request from Gov. Sean Parnell’s office for a new international marketing initiative.

The ASMI board took no formal action Oct. 30 but followed standard procedure to accept the recommendation from its International Marketing Committee for an in-house feasibility study on the seafood market prospects in the Philippines.

The initiative, also endorsed in a presentation by two Alaska House members, may also send an ASMI observer to one of three trade shows in the island nation next year.

The governor himself met privately for 35 minutes with the seven ASMI board members and sat in on several committee meetings on the second day of the Oct. 28 to 30 meeting at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage.

Earlier in the day, special counsel Randy Ruaro explained Parnell’s offer to Philippines Ambassador Joe Cuisia, Jr. — to research the development of seafood business relations with Alaska to the IMC.

Cuisia raised the seafood market prospect, including the possibility of secondary processing of Alaska seafoods in his country, during a visit to Juneau this summer in what was apparently part of an initiative for much broader relations between Alaska and the Philippines.

Earlier this month, Juneau resident Jenny Gomez Strickler was named as honorary consul general of the Philippines to Alaska.

Parnell “offered to assist in analysis of the options, identification of any barriers that would be prohibitive to trade and so we essentially agreed that we would present to the committee his comments and ask for any possible assistance in fleshing out possible product opportunities (and) barriers to opportunities,” Ruaro said.

“Nothing specific, no specified project,” he noted.

The progeny of Filipinos who came to work in Alaskan canneries over the past century, now comprise some five percent of Alaska’s population and have become substantial elements of coastal communities, particularly Juneau, Kodiak and Unalaska. Strickler is president of the Filipino Community Inc. in the capital city, now in the process of establishing a “sister borough” relationship with Aklan Province.

Asked how high a priority the Filipino initiative is for him, Parnell said, “I think it’s important, like virtually every market in the world, but having an emerging market like that and an emerging effort is very important to us.”

Juneau Rep. Cathy Munoz brought support for closer relations with Alaska back from what she said was Alaska’s first trade mission to the Philippines in November 2011.

She noted that fish is the primary protein source of the 92 million island residents and said the seafood business could be the start of a broader trans-Pacific relationship.

“The Philippines is the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia ... We saw booming business happening in Manila in the travel industry,” Munoz said in an Oct. 30 presentation to the board with Bethel Rep. Bob Herron.

Over the past year Munoz won the governor’s backing.

“This is a priority for Rep. Munoz and we would like to have it thoroughly explored for her,” said governor’s office trade specialist Shelley James at the IMF session.

She said Alaska’s currently exports less than $1 million worth of seafood annually to the Philippines.

Committee members generally endorsed the governor’s initiative but also noted its unique features. Ruaro suggested ASMI conduct an “initial feasibility study” on Philippines seafood market opportunities.

Torunn Halhjem, of Trident Seafoods, asked why the Philippines should become a priority and noted that India and other potential new markets have already been discussed.

“I take Torunn’s point on traditional process. This is a little different because of the nature of the inquiry,” said Jeff Stephan, of the Kodiak-based United Fishermen’s Marketing Association and IMC chairman.

Stephan also observed, “Maybe the governor’s office has resources” to fund any research.

Jeff Reynolds, of the Seafood Producers Co-op, said his outfit has a large Filipino workforce that is “mobbed when they take the fish back to the Philippines. There is a desire for Alaska fish already. I think it’s a possible market we’re just not aware of.”

Norman Aoyagi, of Pyramid Island Seafoods LLC, said his company used a “very good cannery” in the Philippines, managed by a British Columbian company, to help handle this year’s pink salmon glut.

He said the Philippines is a “surging sardine importer” that could become an Alaska herring market, but also noted that regions of the island nation are “politically unstable.”

IMC Vice Chairman Michael McGinley, of Ocean Beauty Seafoods, suggested the Philippines could buy as well as pack some of this year’s record pink salmon run but added, “The people in the Philippines are not rich. You do have to focus on some low value items.”

McGinley also suggested the need to research the “cold chain situation,” meaning the ability of processors in the tropical country to maintain proper seafood temperatures.

ASMI last opened a new international office three years ago in Brazil. Alexa Tonkovich, ASMI’s international promotions director, said a market feasibility study was completed before that move.

She suggested the McDowell Group, ASMI’s contract research agency, could complete such a review.

Tonkovich said food trade shows where ASMI could gauge market opportunities are scheduled next June, August and September in the Philippines. The U.S. embassy there has “good events we can tie in to dip our toe in,” Tonkovich added.

The Oct. 28-30 session also achieved the highest legislative attendance ever at a session outside of Juneau.

The All-Hands meeting features a cast of, literally, hundreds including some 70 harvesters and processors on its species (salmon, shellfish, whitefish, halibut/black cod) and operational (international, seafood tech, food service/retail) committees, most of the ASMI Seattle and Juneau staffs and a score of consultants, contractors and trade group representatives.

Over the three-day session the panels review past year’s events and results and work out marketing strategies for the 107 countries that bought Alaska seafood in 2012.

Many of the participants are based in the Seattle region, but the five-figure travel and hotel costs to bring them to Anchorage for the meeting was welcomed as spending seafood industry-generated dollars in Alaska.

Kodiak Rep. Alan Austerman, who replaced Rep. Bill Stoltze as the Alaska House liaison to ASMI, was a driving force behind the move north and said the All-Hands should make Alaska its home.

“There is nothing more heartening than to come to a meeting like this, especially when it is opened to the public, and walk around the (Oct. 29) reception and talk to Alaskans who said, ‘Wow, this is really going on here!’” Austerman urged at the close of the business meeting. “Reconsider that this is Alaska seafood marketing and hold the All-Hands in Alaska every year.”


Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at [email protected].


11/07/2013 - 8:21am