Season of uncertainty: Alaska braces for seafood tariffs

Fisheries are always fraught with uncertainties, but there is an added element this year: trade tariffs on Alaska’s largest export: seafood. “The industry is accustomed to dealing with uncertainty about harvest levels, prices and currency rates. The trade disputes just add another layer to that,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group.

Tariffs of up to 25 percent on U.S. seafood products going to China went into effect last July and more are being threatened now by the Trump administration. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer purchasing 54 percent of Alaska seafood exports in 2017 valued at $1.3 billion.

“It’s important to remember that a tariff is simply a tax and it increases the prices of our products,” Evridge explained. “As Alaskans we are sensitive to any increase in the price of our seafood because we are competing on a global stage. And right now we have tariffs imposed on seafood from the Chinese side and the U.S. side.”

In terms of Alaska salmon, the new taxes could hit buyers of pinks and chums especially hard. Managers expect huge runs of both this summer and much of the pack will be processed into various products in China and then returned to the United States.

“There is uncertainty as to whether or not those products will be tariffed and the Trump administration has indicated they want to tariff all products from China,” Evridge said.

For salmon, in a typical year Alaska contributes 30 to 50 percent of the world’s wild harvest. But when you include farmed salmon, Evridge said, Alaska’s contribution is closer to 15 percent of the global salmon supply.

The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game is predicting a total catch of 213.2 million salmon this year, more than 80 percent higher than in 2018.

The harvest breakdown this year is pegged at about 42 million for sockeye salmon, 9 million fewer than last year.

For pinks, a haul of nearly 138 million would be an increase of 97 million fish over last summer. A coho salmon harvest of 4.6 million would be up 900,000 silvers over 2018.

Chum catches are projected to be at an all-time high with a catch of 29 million, topping the 25 million record set in 2017.

The harvest for king salmon is 112,000 fish at areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where catches are determined by a treaty with Canada. The all gear limit in Southeast this year is 137,500 kings.

You can track Alaska’s salmon catches via weekly emails that Evridge compiles for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

“It gives folks a sense of what the various Alaska areas are producing versus prior years. The goal is to provide a quick snapshot of 2019 versus 2018 as well as the five year average,” he said.  Sign on at garrette@mcdowellgroup.net

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Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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