State agency's farmed salmon gaffe irks lawmaker

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Rep. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, wants to privatize the work being done by the state Division of Trade and Development, and a gaffe that occurred at a South Korean hotel isn't helping the agency any.

The incident happened during a state-sponsored seminar in South Korea last year to persuade chefs there to buy Alaska seafood. Participants grazed along a buffet line that featured kimchi and farmed salmon.

Uh, whoops.

Farmed salmon is the largest rival faced by Alaska's salmon industry.

Alaska harvests only wild fish, but nations like Norway and Chile have been raising giant quantities of salmon in offshore holding pens which has been crushing world demand for Alaska's wild fish.

So serving farmed fish at an Alaska fish show is just a tad embarrassing.

Greg Wolf is director of the state's Division of Trade and Development, which organized the Alaska seafood seminar last April at a hotel in a Seoul, South Korea. He said it was an honest mistake that shouldn't overshadow the seminar's overall success.

But Cowdery said he thinks the international trade division is mismanaged and he's holding up the farmed salmon flub like a trophy catch as the Legislature completes its work on next year's budget.

''I consider it dangerous to let these people represent the state of Alaska in any capacity,'' Cowdery said of the agency in a recent letter.

Deborah Sedwick, the state cabinet member who oversees the trade division, tried to downplay the salmon gaffe in a rebuttal to legislators.

''We Alaskans were the only ones that knew,'' she said.

Wolf gave this account of the incident:

''There was a buffet line. The Koreans, they like to eat lots of little dishes. The hotel provided their normal buffet line, which had dozens and dozens of items. Apparently one of the items, as a sort of hors d'oeuvre, was some smoked salmon with cream cheese. Apparently the salmon was not from Alaska.''

None of the Korean guests seemed to notice what the Alaska sponsors later learned -- that the salmon was somebody else's, he said.

Wolf said his office since has adopted a new policy: In arranging future events at hotels, the contract will insist ''Alaska seafood only.''

Several Korean hotels have become new buyers of Alaska seafood since the Seoul seminar and some Korean chefs recently visited Anchorage.

Wolf estimated that the Korean seminar has resulted in $250,000 in seafood exports to that Pacific Rim nation.

Cowdery, however, wonders why the division needs to dabble in work already being done by another state agency, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. He has suggested that the trade division's work could be taken over by a private competitor, World Trade Center Alaska.

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