Kenai Wild branding program awaits federal money

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Cook Inlet Salmon Branding Inc. awaits more than $2 million to help grow the market for its label, Kenai Wild, and to help fishers keep up with the company's lofty goals for its sophomore year.

The organization anticipates receiving some of the $50 million Gov. Frank Murkowski pegged in April for his salmon revitalization strategy, said Jack Brown, CISB Inc. board member and Kenai Peninsula Borough business development manager.

The money is part of the Fisheries Economic Development Matching Grant program appropriated from federal funds by Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, and the grant is sponsored through the state department of Community and Economic Development.

The roughly $2.1 million Brown said the organization expects would pay for capital expenses and programming. In particular, the organization will be able to buy boning and pinning machines to make fish processing more efficient.

But Brown said most of the processing plants associated with the program already have begun to acquire some of the new materials, including fish totes and pinning machines, to use when the commercial sockeye salmon season opens Thursday.

"Many of the plants, from Snug Harbor, Deep Creep, Salamatof Seafoods, Alaska Salmon Purchasers and our participating plants and individual fishing co-ops, are upgrading their equipment in preparation for the second season of Kenai Wild," Brown said.

In January the branding program received $399,659 from the National Atmospheric Administration's Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program to develop the program. In addition to increasing material assets, the program has hired Sylvia G. Beaudoin as its program coordinator. She began working last month and will work through the end of the season.

Beaudoin will be responsible for scheduling quality control agents, overseeing shipments, customer relations and marketing the Kenai Wild brand to restaurants and food purchasers across the country.

The five-year pilot initiative was envisioned by borough Mayor Dale Bagley to revitalize the upper 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.

Following success from its inaugural season, when the program exceeded its goal of branding 20,000 pounds of salmon, Brown said the program's board set a mark near 100,000 pounds this year. He said marketing efforts this year have been so successful that such a number appears conceivable.

"We could exceed that goal, but we're trying to stay within a manageable range," he said. "We're in negotiations with a lot of buyers, but we're putting the brakes on it because we don't want to overcommit."

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