Commercial fisherman seek restrictions on farmed salmon imports

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A group of commercial fishermen is asking the federal government to restrict imports of farmed salmon from Chile into the United States.

United Fishermen of Alaska says the Chilean farmed salmon industry is overproducing pen-reared fish and flooding the U.S. market, underselling fishermen here and driving prices down.

Bruce Schactler, a UFA board member, said the group doesn't have a formal proposal yet, but some board members want the United States to restrict Chilean salmon imports during the commercial salmon season from May through September.

Others suggest assessing a fee against Chilean farmed salmon part of the year, Schactler said.

The federal government is negotiating a free trade agreement with Chile -- the world's top producer of farmed salmon, which compete against wild Alaska salmon in the marketplace. Gov. Tony Knowles wrote a letter to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in January asking for assurances the agreement won't hurt the Alaska seafood industry.

United Fisherman of Alaska, which represents 24 Alaska fishing groups, maintains restrictions are justified because the Chileans have a huge economic advantage over U.S. fishermen.

The salmon farms are subsidized by the Chilean government, and the industry pays workers low wages -- about $500 a month, said Jerry McCune, a UFA board member. Also, fishermen in Alaska operate under costly environmental regulations, and Chilean salmon farms do not, McCune said.

Wild Alaska salmon dominated world salmon markets 15 years ago, but by 1999 salmon farms were producing double the volume of fish harvested by Alaska fishermen, according to UFA. Salmon farming is illegal in Alaska.

A spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative was not immediately available for comment.

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