Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Alaska Asks USDA to Buy Surplus Humpies
to Slow Price Decline

This story has been edited to correct an error in a previous version.

As Alaska’s commercial harvest of humpies surged in late July, the governor’s office asked the federal government to purchase excess inventories of canned pink salmon to help stem a drop in prices already hovering around 28 cents a pound.

Gov. Sean Parnell specifically asked that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack make a $37 million US Department of Agriculture purchase of about one million cases of the one pound talls, those 15.75 ounce cans of salmon.

The current price to fishermen compares with 40 cents a pound in 2013, when the statewide harvest of humpies was a record 219 million fish, and 48 cents a pound in 2012, when the overall pink harvest reached 127.5 million fish.

Such a purchase, Parnell told Vilsack, would not only correct the inventory surplus, but also provide a shelf-stable, high-quality protein for domestic food and nutrition assistance programs.

There was no immediate response from USDA, but it’s a really long process, said Bruce Schactler, food aid program and development director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a partnership of fishermen, processors and the state government that promotes Alaska seafood as a whole, not by individual brands. “It takes a while,” Schactler said. “The Agriculture Marketing Service in the department has to take a close look at detailed analysis of the market.

“This is all about trying to stabilize prices to the fisherman, and by taking surplus product off the market, that should stabilize wholesale prices paid to fishermen,” he said.

Back in March, USDA spent $20 million to purchase half a million cases of canned pink salmon, a purchase that Parnell said was an important first step in reducing inventories to help slow the price decline. Alaska’s record breaking 2013 salmon season resulted in an unprecedented high volume of unsold canned and frozen pink salmon products. The 2013 season exceeded the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates by over 100 million fish, resulting in the harvest of 219 million pinks. The previous record high pink harvest was 161 million humpies in 2005.

Parnell noted that fish processors and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute were already working on marketing the surplus. In 2013, the industry committed over $1.5 million in additional emergency funds, specifically targeted to marketing pink salmon in commercial markets. Still that record harvest has created an inventory oversupply greater than was experienced by the salmon industry in Alaska between 1999 and 2004.

During that period, over 2,000 Alaskan fishermen, many small or minority owned businesses, went out of business and 50 percent of the processors sold or closed their facilities, Parnell said.

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