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Alaska Fish Factor: Walmart Expands Commitment to Alaskan Seafood

02 February 2015
 Alaska Fish Factor: Laine Welch Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. She also has worked ‘behind the counter’ in wholesale and retail seafood businesses in Alaska and Cape Cod, MA. Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska.

US - Freezer displays at Walmart superstores in Alaska and Washington now include a new lineup of 14 Alaska seafood items. The world’s largest grocer announced the expanded commitment to Alaska seafood last week.

“We are so proud to bring these to our customers, and we also know how important it is to local fishermen and folks across the state,” said John Forrest Ales, Director of Corporate Communications for Walmart.

Company stores already carry Alaska halibut and sockeye salmon. Added to the mix now is Alaska cod loins and fillets, coho, keta and king salmon, rockfish, sole, and Alaska king and snow crab.

Also debuting last week: The Alaskan, from Trident Seafoods, featuring separately bagged items that include grilled salmon, pollock fillets, whitefish burgers and more.

“We’re particularly excited about our expanded assortment which is highlighted by our exclusive line of The Alaskan,” Ales said in a phone interview. “These items are new 100% Alaska seafood products exclusively for us. They’re all caught in those great Alaska waters and processed locally either in the state or in the Pacific Northwest.”

The new partnership with Trident, Ales added, is Wal-Mart’s “Made in the USA Manufacturing Initiative” in action.

“In 2013 we committed to American renewal by announcing that we intend to help boost job creation here in the US along with manufacturing, and we’re going to do that by buying an additional $250 billion in products that support American jobs by 2023,” he said.

Walmart operates 11,202 stores in 27 countries. Might the Alaska seafood blitz extend to other stores?

“We’re always listening to our customers and providing the assortments and items they want,” Ales said. “We know customers in all parts of the world recognize that Alaska produces high quality seafood; it’s a premium item with great dependability and great taste. And as our customers seek those items out, we absolutely want to be there to make these products available and to meet their needs from store to store and community by community.”

Get growing! Grow what you’ve got is the trend in Juneau as the way to boost and sustain its economy. Last week’s annual Innovation Summit showcased ideas in four clusters: Oceans, Visitors, Forests and Renewable Energy.

“In an advanced economy like the US and Europe most of the growth comes from new ideas. We’ve tapped out most of our opportunities to just pull resources out of the ground or water, so real growth happens when we innovate,” said Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, host of the Summit. It also promoted the cluster-based model of growing an economy, which recognizes the strengths in a region and encourages building on those strengths.

“Clusters are concentrations of businesses in a particular region that rely on a similar labor market,” Holst explained. “These firms complement each other but also compete. Think of the seafood industry, tourism, visitor products. Those businesses that bring in money from Outside are especially important for our economy.”

“We know that 95% of jobs come from industries that already exist within an economy,” Holst continued. “A lot of people say let’s attract a new company or industry into a town or region, but that is very difficult and the return is very low.

The best return is to focus and grow what you have.”

The Ocean Products Cluster for the region is focusing on growing the mariculture industry, a sea otter garment business and full utilization of fish parts.

Juneau has become a busy fishing town, Holst said, and all combined, it is the community’s largest employer. He believes there is heightened awareness of the seafood industry’s importance in the Capitol city.

“I believe Juneau recognizes that the ocean and ocean harvests are going to be part of who we were, who we are and who we will be in the future,” Holst said, “and we want to invest in and support the industry.”

‘But’s up! Alaska’s 2015 halibut catch is 21.2 million pounds, an overall increase for the first time in a decade, and nearly 1.5 million pounds higher than last year. The International Pacific Halibut Commission finalized the numbers at its annual meeting on Jan.30. All but two Alaska regions will enjoy slightly bigger harvests. Here are the catch limits in millions of pounds, and comparisons to 2014.

Seafood trends - Seafood eating trends and market outlooks were a focus of the Global Seafood Market Conference last week in Las Vegas, hosted annually by the National Fisheries Institute.

Undercurrent News provided highlights and predictions by a wide range of experts at its on-site blog.

For halibut, strong demand and high prices for fresh fish is set to continue, with halibut almost exclusively seen today at high end restaurants.

Markets for tilapia, a tasteless farmed whitefish, continues to grow, with most of it coming from Mexico, Central and South America. Honduras increased its US market share from 28 to 38 percent last year. Global tilapia production is pegged at 4.7 million metric tons this year, or more than 10 billion pounds.

Alaska Pollock is the fish to push, said food service reps, because ‘anything can be done with it’ and it is sustainably abundant.

Prices for fresh Pacific cod fillets should increase due to drops in production on the east coast, and a 100,000 ton cut in the Barents Sea cod quota.

For four years Sablefish Canada of British Columbia has been shipping farmed sablefish (black cod) from its Saltspring Island facility to white tablecloth restaurants in the US and Asia. The goal is to produce one million sablefish annually. Sablefish are tough to grow and very carnivorous and it took10 years before they were successful, a company spokesman said. Most of the world’s sablefish comes from Alaska, where the supply picture is flat.

More US oyster growers are following the lead of wine makers by promoting the regions where their shellfish come from. More production is needed to meet demands, as regulations, water quality and limited hatchery production are limiting supplies in the Lower 48. Ocean acidification also was cited as a threat to shellfish mariculture.

Panelists said world currency weaknesses will hurt frozen sockeye sales this year. The Canadian dollar, British Pound, Euro, Yen and Norwegian Kroner all have plummeted making it more expensive for them to buy Alaska sockeye. The market for pink salmon, however, is still strong.

Jumbo Humboldt squid, which can grow to five feet, are continuing to move north to Alaska with red flags they could slam the salmon fishery. The squid are very aggressive predators that eat everything in their path.

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