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Alaska exports see record year

Posted: April 27, 2012 - 12:51pm

Led by seafood, Alaskan exports enjoyed another record year in 2011 with a value of more than $5.2 billion, a $1 billion increase from 2010.

The previous record for Alaska exports was set in 2010 at $4.2 billion, just greater than $4 billion in exports in 2006 and 2007, and last year's numbers were a 57 percent increase versus $3.3 billion in exports in 2009.

Seafood topped the growth with a 35 percent increase in value during 2011 compared to 2010, and accounted for nearly half the state exports at $2.5 billion. All data are from the U.S. Census Bureau.

China became the No. 1 destination for Alaska seafood exports, displacing traditional top market Japan for the first time. Seafood exports to China, supplying a growing middle class as well as processing operations that re-export Alaskan seafood to Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere, rose to $836 million compared to $589 million to Japan.

Total Alaska exports to China have nearly tripled since 2009, rising from $586 million to $1.44 billion in 2011. Exports have steadily risen in value to South Korea as well, growing from $458 million in 2009 to $644 million in 2011.

"Alaska's sustainable seafood is reaching a wider variety of destinations in a wider array of high quality product forms, and this directly benefits Alaska's communities that share in production," said United Fishermen of Alaska President Arni Thomson.

Energy exports declined by 7.3 percent to $387 million after ConocoPhillips shut down its liquefied natural gas export facility at Nikiski last November. The plant will resume operations this year after securing new contracts and leasing an LNG tanker.

LNG exports declined from $366 million in 2010 to $210 million in 2011. Energy, which includes LNG and coal, remains the state's third largest export behind seafood and mineral ores followed by precious metals, forest products and fish meal.

Most of Alaska's exports -- seafood, mineral ores, forest products and precious metals -- grew more in value than they did in volume.

The weakened dollar against the Japanese yen, the ballooning price of gold and new mineral export operations played a major role in the increase in value for Alaskan exports.

From the middle of 2010 to the end of 2011, the U.S. dollar declined in value by 25 percent against the yen, giving a tremendous boost to the buying power of Japanese markets who covet Alaska salmon, crab, pollock and herring roes (eggs) and sablefish.

The total Alaska salmon harvest (not all exported), was tabbed at $603 million for 2011 to rank as the third-highest ever and is expected to climb to second all-time after final price adjustments are reported.

The Alaska snow crab harvest increased in 2011 versus 2010, to about 54 million pounds, but the high-dollar king crab harvest was cut in half from 14.8 million pounds to 7.8 million pounds.

Nevertheless, the value of crab exports increased by 56 percent, from $73 million in 2010 to $113 million in 2011.

The value of frozen fish fillets nearly doubled in 2011, to $519 million, compared to $280 million in 2010.

The Bering Sea pollock quota was raised by about 50 percent in 2011, and the value of fish roe (one of three primary pollock products among surimi and fillets) increased by 77 percent to $269 million.

Gold prices skyrocketed to more than $1,900 per ounce in 2011, contributing to large increases in the value of exports of gold bars to Switzerland -- Alaska's No. 6 export destination -- and buoyed by the first full year of production at Kensington mine north of Juneau.

Gold exports jumped from $213 million in 2010 to $265 million in 2011, with $250.9 million going to Switzerland.

Exports of gold concentrates, mostly from Kensington, increased from $20 million in 2010 to $142 million in 2011.

The Port of Skagway, a project led by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, exported $199 million worth of copper ore concentrates from the Minto mine in Canada compared to $37 million in 2010.

"The strong international work by industry and by state agencies, like the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, are reaping benefits for Alaskans across the state," Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement.

Mineral ore exports from the Red Dog mine in Northwest Alaska accounted for $1.4 billion of the state's $1.8 billion in such exports. Zinc ores and concentrates increased by nearly 12 percent to $981 million in 2011, and lead ores and concentrates increased by 8.7 percent to $437 million.

The value of zinc exports from Red Dog, one of the largest such mines in the world, have doubled since 2008 and the value of lead exports have nearly tripled in the same period.

The value of forest products increased slightly by 1.9 percent to $119 million, the highest value in seven years bound mainly for China, Japan, South Korea, Canada and Taiwan.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at andrew.jensen@alaskajournal.com.

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