ASMI upbeat despite seafood industry challenge

Tonkovich: ‘We are lucky enough to promote the best seafood in the world’

In the face of unpredictable harvests and unfavorable currency rates, wild Alaska seafood is still the best in the world and opportunities to market it abound, says Alexa Tonkovich, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

In her message at the opening of ASMI’s All Hands on Deck meeting in Anchorage on Oct 25, Tonkovich acknowledged the pressures of the Russian ban on food imports from the European Union, United States, Canada, Norway and Australia, along with budget cuts to ASMI as Alaska deals with its own economic crisis, climate change impacts and more.

But, said Tonkovich, “we should not forget that we are lucky enough to promote the best seafood in the world.  Globally, Alaska is one of the leaders in fisheries management and we have diverse and abundant fisheries.”

Along with challenges acknowledged in domestic and international seafood markets, reports presented during the Anchorage session showed much progress in ASMI’s efforts to boost sales.  All the reports are online at

ASMI was all over the map this past year promoting wild Alaska seafood,  from the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle to the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks and second annual Alaska Food Festival and Conference in Anchorage, facilitated by the Alaska Food Policy Council, said Tyson Fick, communications director for ASMI.

The communications strategic plan developed by ASMI targeted domestic and overseas consumers, the fleet and the industry, and the Alaska Legislature, via ASMI’s updated website (, economic reports, international media tours, quality videos and research, and town hall meetings, said Fick.


The Alaska Seafood Brand Ambassador program, which encourages the fleet to become brand advocates, and reminds them that they are integral to ASMI’s mission of promoting Alaska seafood, now has 450 Alaska fishermen committed to being Alaska seafood brand ambassadors across the country, he said.  These fishermen speak with other fishermen around the state, and at industry events such as ComFish in Kodiak and the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, he said.

Meanwhile, ASMI continues to employ social media to reach thousands of people with online campaigns on the taste and value of Alaska seafood, he said. Media relations efforts alone resulted in 895 articles and over 2.5 billion earned media impressions from February 2015 through September 2016, he said.

Fick traveled to New York recently for a James Beard house dinner featuring Alaska chefs, plus media lunches and dinners at Tasting Table test kitchens and Food Network headquarters, plus visits to test kitchens of Martha Stewart and Daily Meal.

Participants in the All Hands meeting also got updates on Alaska’s salmon harvests, international markets, sustainability and global food aid programs.

Based on preliminary harvest reports, the 2016 summer salmon season produced more than 112 million salmon, well below the anticipated harvest, said Andy Wink, of the McDowell Group, which tracks salmon harvests and more for ASMI.

Sockeye harvests will likely end up being the second largest of the last 20 years, with last year being the largest harvest at that time, he said.

The largest of Alaska’s sockeye harvests this year came from Bristol Bay and the Alaska Peninsula, while Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Chignik came up short of forecasts. The pink salmon harvests were 56 percent below preseason forecasts, keta salmon harvests were 15 percent below forecasts, king salmon was 9 percent below forecasts and coho salmon 12 percent short of forecasts.

On the bright side, said Wink, poor humpy harvest should virtually clear out any remaining canned pink inventory, and also support the roe market heading into the coming year.

ASMI’s global food aid program, meanwhile, is concentrating on expanding the impact of Alaska seafood in domestic and export food air programs, with new species, product forms and package sizes, said Bruce Schactler, who overseas the food air program at ASMI.

Schactler said he’s working to get more seafood included in all U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and to align Alaska seafood with priorities of domestic and international food air markets, while anticipating future trends.  USDA purchases of wild Alaska seafood this past year totaled over $55 million, including Alaska Pollock, canned sockeyes, canned humpies, kosher canned pink salmon and salmon fillets.