Kenai Wild gets grant to begin second year

Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Kenai Peninsula Borough officials said the Cook Inlet Salmon Branding program, the organization behind the Kenai Wild quality brand sockeye, should be set to make a sophomore run this spring. By "set," officials said they meant the nearly $400,000 to operate the program has been acquired.

Monday the program was awarded a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Saltonstall Kennedy Grant Program, which provides financial assistance for research and development projects to benefit the U.S. fishing industry. The grant, totaling $399,659, calls for a 10 percent match.

Borough grant manager Bonnie Golden said the program would provide $40,000 from last year's surplus as the matching dollars. She said the borough also will provide an in-kind, or nonmonetary, match in the way of donated administrative time valued at $35,672.

"We put in the time allowance to reinforce the grant proposal," she said, saying this time would account for both her work and borough business development manager Jack Brown's work with the project.

The five-year pilot initiative was envisioned by borough Mayor Dale Bagley to revitalize the lower Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishing industry. By improving the care, and subsequently the quality of the fish harvested along a stringent line of standards, the program intends to target high-end markets and demand higher prices per pound.

In its inaugural 2002 season, the borough fronted the program's budget with $305,550 in what Golden called "interim funding" to start, until the branding program could recoup a combined $324,000 from various state and industry resources. And the program operated under budget, she said, giving it it's own operating budget.

"We didn't spend the entire amount of the borough loan," Golden said. "So now we've got this account that's all grant money that we can use for the program, instead of money from the borough's general fund."

The program exceeded its original goal of 20,000 pounds of inspected and certified, high-quality sockeye, with 32 fishers and three processors. Calling the first year a success, Brown said this year's budget will call for Web site development, trade marketing and copyright services, and more inspectors, participants and poundage goals.

"One of our goals is to inspect 200,000 pounds of sockeye and certify 80,000 pounds," he said. "And we're looking at increasing the number of participants to 50 fishermen and adding one processor."

Golden said in spite of what the NOAA grant will provide for, program officials determined additional needs that will call for more funding.

Last year the program had two trainees whom she said would be certified by the end of the 2003 fishing season. The NOAA grant would pay for two more trainees, at roughly $5,000 each, but Golden said CISB hoped for two additional trainees that extra funding would help provide.

"We are applying for some additional funding under a quality management program," she said. "We would like to expand the number of local inspector trainees that are we are trying to get qualified."

She said these and other needs weren't recognized until during the evaluation stage of last year's start, which came at the end of the fishing season and after the Saltonstall Kennedy grant proposal was already complete.

"When we applied for the (Saltonstall Kennedy) grant last July, we had started actual implementation," Golden said. "Since then, we've identified some additional needs. But since that wasn't part of the original grant request, they weren't funded."

Those needs include insulated fish totes, ice machines located throughout the Cook Inlet area, and pin-bone machines and other equipment to facilitate processing.

Brown said the Cook Inlet Salmon Branding board of directors has discussed creating a position to oversee the program going forward and to handle various administrative tasks. He said the board feels that person's time should be spent marketing.

"If we had someone spending full time on preseason sales, they could make commitments to so many pounds of fish so that we would know up front what we would need from canneries and fishermen to certify that amount of fish," Brown said. "We're going to put the program two or three years ahead of pace if we can do that."

Golden said if funded, the position would start as a program manager and possibly evolve into an executive director and one or more administrative positions.

"We're looking to see how we might be able to fund that position," she said. "It may come from existing funds, or we may have to seek additional funding."

Brown said he was confident that the branding program could accomplish the lofty goals the board has set for this season. He said hiring a marketing-savvy professional to generate sales before nets ever hit the water is key to success, however.

"To make that achievable, we've got to have preseason orders," Brown said. "Those markets are there right now if we can develop those relationships and prove that we can provide a quality product on a consistent basis."

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