Larsen Bay

A group of Chinese seafood buyers and media members toured Larsen Bay’s historic cannery on Tuesday. ALICE OTTOSON-MCKEEN/Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

KODIAK — A delegation of Chinese seafood executives and media members visited Kodiak this week to tour its harvesting and processing facilities.

The visit was organized by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a state agency tasked with promoting Alaska seafood worldwide. Delegates included the president of a Chinese frozen seafood company, the senior product manager of the processor and wholesaler COFCO Group, and the co-founder of the online retailer Fruit Day Company.

China is the largest importer of Alaska seafood of any foreign country and its imports are growing, according to the McDowell Group, a research and consulting firm. Last year, the world’s most populous nation imported about $989 million worth of Alaska fish, up 25 percent from the previous year according to McDowell Group economist Garrett Evridge.

On Tuesday, the delegation – made up of seven buyers and two media representatives – visited the Icicle Seafoods processing plant in Larsen Bay, in the western reaches of Kodiak Island. On Wednesday they visited the Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty and Pacific Seafoods processing plants in Kodiak. The group also toured a sockeye camp on Harvester Island.

Zhang Wei, an ASMI representative who lives in China and helped facilitate the visit, said its purpose was to acquaint Chinese seafood buyers with the industry here.

“We have high quality seafood,” he said. “We hope that when they get back to China they will bring more seafood from Alaska to consumers.”

He said that the delegation has been “very impressed with the natural environment” in Kodiak.

Two representatives from Tencent, a media conglomerate, joined the delegation.

“We brought the media here because we want them to learn about how pure the environment is,” Zhang said.

In addition to wholesalers, online retailers – who sell directly to Chinese consumers – have become a target for seafood marketers.

Zhang said the most popular products for online buyers are crab, black cod, yellowfin sole and salmon.

“Most items from Alaska can be found on e-commerce sites,” he said.

While the majority of fish shipped to China is still re-processed and shipped elsewhere, according to Jeremy Woodrow of ASMI, the demand for Alaska fish is increasing among Chinese consumers.

“Market analysis and reports from our marketing teams in China report a growing domestic demand and consumption overall” particularly for Alaska salmon, he said.

“The growing demand for Alaska salmon is attributed to Chinese chefs and consumers preferring the quality, taste and sustainability attributes of Alaska seafood.”

Multiple marketers have also referenced a growing middle class in China that increasingly demands naturally-sourced and sustainably-harvested seafood.

Zhang said that the recent retaliatory tariffs introduced by the Chinese government – which added a 25 percent tax on seafood products not marked for re-export – will increase prices. But he said buyers do not anticipate a major setback.

“The price will be a bit higher than before,” he said. “But we got positive feedback from our buyers. Alaska seafood has a very good image among consumers in China.”

The group’s six-day visit to the U.S. will also include stops in Anchorage and Seattle.

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