Feds make another multimillion dollar pink salmon buy

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to buy $15 million worth of canned Alaska pink salmon, a move Alaska fish processors praised as an important step toward reducing a chronic inventory glut harmful to the state's seafood industry.

It's great, really perfect,'' said Don Giles, president of Icicle Seafoods Inc., one of several companies holding millions of cans of pink salmon in warehouses in Washington state and Oregon.

The USDA will buy the salmon for use in school lunch, food bank and other programs. The purchase continues a string of multimillion-dollar USDA salmon purchases in recent years.

The pink salmon glut is a significant problem for the state's salmon industry, which has been hobbled by the more prominent problem of competition from foreign fish farmers.

The farmed fish generally is not canned and competes more with Alaska's sockeye salmon, a higher-value species than pink salmon.

But the farmed fish and the pink glut are combining to decimate profits for commercial fishermen and processors, industry players say.

Demand for pink salmon remains solid, said Giles, who serves on a state legislative task force trying to cobble ways to revive the industry. The problem has been unexpectedly large pink salmon catches in recent years. That's created a large supply of canned salmon that languishes in warehouses from season to season, driving down market prices, he said.

The inventory reduction should firm up prices for pink salmon, which are now running at about $36 a case, said Chris McDowell, a Juneau consultant who tracks salmon markets and inventory for the state. Prices reached more than $51 per case in late 2000.

The USDA, which buys commodities ranging from apples to pork to walnuts for federal food programs, bought $13 million worth of canned salmon after the 2001 fishing season, $14.5 million after the 1999 season, and $8 million after the 1998 season, McDowell said.

U.S. Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, along with Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, asked the USDA for a new salmon buy.

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