More seafood exports keeping Alaska's trade figures healthy

welchlanieLR.jpg State trade officials got a pleasant surprise last month, thanks in large part to Alaska’s seafood industry.

Economists and other number crunchers had anticipated a big dip in the value of Alaska’s exports this year because of a worldwide economic slowdown. But to the contrary, the value of Alaska exports is actually up slightly from last year, totaling $2 billion, an increase of $7 million from the third quarter of 2000.

More than $1 billion of that came from exports of Alaska seafood, whose exports were up 21 percent through the third quarter. According to the state Division of International Trade and Market Development, most of the fish going to other countries was groundfish, especially pollock.

The increase in the total value of Alaska’s exports is especially interesting for two reasons, said ITMD director Greg Wolf. One is the fact that beginning this year one of the state’s primary export products, crude oil, is no longer exported overseas but instead is sent to West Coast refineries.

"With crude oil no longer being exported, we prepared everyone for a dip in our export numbers," Wolf said. "However, seafood, minerals and fertilizer more than made up the difference."

Another reason is that the economies of Alaska’s primary trading partners, especially Japan and Korea, have been mostly stagnant in 2001. Wolf said that while Alaska’s exports to Japan have borne out a projected decline, exports to Korea increased 4 percent, with seafood exports more than double last year.

These are clear signs that more Alaska seafood is steadily making its way to more countries around the globe. Here’s another good example: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service reports that American exporters shipped nearly $105 million worth of seafood to Germany in the first nine months of 2001, more than double 2000 figures and setting a record for sales to that country.

"Record U.S. exports of pollock (92 percent of which was frozen Alaska pollock fillets, valued at more than $68.4 million for the nine-month period) spurred this tremendous growth," the FAS report said. "These record sales were more than five times the value of pollock exports for the entire 2000 calendar year. Reduced harvests by European fleets were a major factor in Germany’s increased imports of Alaska pollock."

Other major U.S. exports to Germany were salmon, lobster and dogfish. The report added: "In 2000, the U.S. share of total salmon imports was a modest 4.5 percent, as farmed salmon from Norway and other countries dominated the market. However, U.S. exports of wild Alaska salmon to Germany have increased steadily in recent years, growing from $3.8 million in 1996 to nearly $13.9 million in 2000."

The report concluded, "Product differentiation and consumers’ environmental awareness (such as recognition that Alaska salmon is harvested in a sustainable manner) may have played a role in the increased purchases of Alaska salmon."

The report said Germans have clear preferences in seafood, and their favorites are Alaska salmon, herring and tuna, followed by Atlantic and Pacific salmon.

While the numbers are encouraging, more opportunities for Alaska seafood exports clearly await in Germany. For example, Russia and China are the leading providers of groundfish fillets to Germany, supplying nearly 65 percent of that product last year. In all, 75 percent of Germany’s seafood is imported. Only about 2 percent originates from the United States.

Testing may affect whales

U.S. Navy tests of a new SONAR system were the likely cause of the beachings of 16 whales in the Bahamas last year. reports that a study by the National Marine Fisheries Service determined that the whales came ashore March 15 and 16 as Navy ships were testing sonar in the area. Six of the whales died.

The Navy was reportedly testing a new midrange frequency system for submarine detection.

Joint NMFS-Navy tests found that the dead whales had suffered hemorrhages in the ear area. While not fatal, the injuries could have disoriented the whales and caused them to beach themselves.

Investigations of similar incidents have been inconclusive because the whale corpses were too decomposed. However, this time many of the whales were beached in front of the island home of Ken Balcomb, research director of the Washington-based Center for Whale Research. He made sure the whales were properly preserved for further study. The U.S. Navy has committed to trying to avoid causing whale beachings within the constraints of its national security mission.

Americans love jerky

Jerky is now the fastest growing category within America’s snack food market, with sales soaring because of demand from outdoor enthusiasts and consumers on high-protein diets.

WorldCatch reports that figures from the Snack Food Association show sales of jerky and beef sticks grew by almost 29 percent in 1999 and 32 percent last year. Sales of pork rinds grew 21 percent, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds sales grew 16 percent.

"Companies have responded to demand by launching new gourmet versions of the jerky snack: similar products made with the meat of elk, buffalo, salmon, ostrich and pheasant, for example," WorldCatch said.

Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

01/13/2002 - 8:00pm