KODIAK — So how’s that trade war with China going?
Up until last July, when the Trump Administration slapped a 25 percent export tax on nearly all U.S. seafood, China was Alaska’s biggest trading partner for seven years running. In 2017, China bought 54 percent of Alaska’s fish and shellfish products, valued at $800 million.
That U.S. tax volley was followed by a retaliatory 10 percent tariff from China in September on seafood exports to the U.S.; that is set to be upped by 25 percent this month.
All the tariff tit-for-tat has taken a big bite out of Alaska’s seafood market share and sales continue to sink. The new taxes have tamped down Alaska seafood sales to China by one fifth through 2018, said Jeremy Woodrow, acting director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
In a presentation this month to the Alaska House Fisheries Committee, Woodrow said “sales so far this year are off by more than 20 percent, and we expect to take a big hit from China this year.”
Woodrow said a survey of Alaska processors and industry stakeholders revealed that “65 percent reported they had immediately lost sales from the increase of these tariffs, 50 percent reported delays in their sales, and 36 percent reported they lost customers in China. Another 21 percent said they had unanticipated costs because of the trade conflict.”
He added that the taxes have caused inventories to pile up in freezers as Alaska seafood sellers seek markets to fill the China shortfall. Sales inroads are being made in other countries, such as Spain and Brazil, Woodrow said, but the loss of China would leave a lasting hurt.
Meanwhile, state general fund dollars have been zeroed out for ASMI’s budget by the Dunleavy Administration and its travel budget slashed by more than half to $158,000.
Woodrow will talk more about Alaska seafood marketing during ComFish in Kodiak on March 29.
OTHER TRADE IMPACTS
A new report by economists from Columbia, Princeton and the New York Federal Reserve explores the impacts of the Trump Administration’s trade policy on prices and pocketbooks.
In the short term, it says the U.S. has experienced substantial price increases, large changes to supply chain networks, a drop in the availability of imported varieties and complete passthrough of the tariffs to domestic consumers.
While the long-run effects are still to be seen, the economists said, “We also see similar patterns for foreign countries who have retaliated against the U.S., which indicates that the trade war reduces real income for the global economy as well.”
SEAWEED TO THE RESCUE
“They are coming to take our cows away!” yelped critics of the proposed Green New Deal that’s cropped up in Congress. The deal calls for major investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure to help the U.S. transform to a more earth friendly economy.
The GND is making farmers uneasy because fingers are pointing at cows as big polluters from the methane gas they pass. Most of the gas is actually belched from the cow’s mouth and not released from the back end. Cow burps account for 26 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions according to the EPA.
Seaweed can help put the brakes on all those burps.
Researchers in Australia started investigating after a dairy farmer noticed cows that grazed on washed-up seaweed along the shore were healthier and more productive than those in the field.
Another study five years ago confirmed those results and 20 different kinds of seaweed were tested in cow feeds. Overall, they reduced methane production by up to 50 percent but required high doses of seaweed, almost 20 percent by sample weight.
Enter Asparagopsis, a red seaweed found throughout the Pacific.
The Queensland researchers found that adding less than two percent of that particular seaweed to a cow’s diet reduced its methane output by up to 99 percent!
The cows have good taste — asparagopsis is one of the most popular seaweed ingredients in Hawaiian cuisine and used traditionally in poke.
The problem now is producing enough of the methane suppressor. Wild harvesting is not sustainable, the researchers said, and it will take financial and industry backers to cultivate production to an industrial scale.
Meanwhile, that dairy farmer has sold his farm and is selling kelp and rockweed infused livestock feed full-time with a Prince Edward Island company called North Atlantic Organics.
FISH GALS ON THE JOB
Women at work in the seafood industry is the focus of an international video competition that’s now open for entries. The scope includes all segments of the industry — fishing on boats, fish farming, processing, selling, managing, research, monitoring, teaching and any related services.
It’s the second round for the contest that was launched last year by the Paris-based group Women in the Seafood Industry.
“Women are very numerous in the industry, but not very visible,” said Marie Christine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder.
Studies show that one in two workers in the seafood industry is a woman, but most are over-represented in low skilled, low paying positions. Montfort said women account for less than 10 percent of company directors and just 1 percent of CEOs.
A WSI international survey last year revealed that 61 percent of women reported perceptions of gender inequality in the seafood industry compared to 48 percent of men.
Raising awareness of gender biases is the first step towards making positive changes, Montfort said. And, that is what the film contest is all about.
Last year’s winner showcased women who mend nets for a living in Vigo, Spain. Second place went to a film about California women who formed a clam farming cooperative. Tied for third place were films about female fishing mentors in Newfoundland and women in India who started food trucks to sell their husbands’ catches.
One entry from Alaska called Copper River featured veteran Cordova fisherman, Thea Thomas.
Individuals and groups are invited to contribute videos of up to four minutes showing women at work in the industry. Winners receive 1000 euros along with two 500 euro prizes. Deadline to enter is August 2. Learn more at womeninseafood.com.