A delegation from China visited Kodiak Island this week with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, touring fish processing plants in Kodiak and Larsen Bay.
Right in the middle of the visit, President Donald Trump’s administration proposed more tariffs, which doesn’t bode well for Alaska’s seafood trade.
But that didn’t dampen the delegation’s enthusiasm for what Alaska has to offer.
The water is low today, so Alaska Department of Fish and Game employees in Kodiak are seining for sockeye salmon at the Buskin River weir. Sport fisheries area management biologist Tyler Polum says the Chinese delegation has come to learn about local fisheries management.
“Sometimes when the water is low, we can’t get them to go into the trap at the weir, so we thought that it would be better to beach seine for these fish,” said Polum. “We’ll show them how we sample fish to get age, sex, and length from them.”
Mingzhen Zhang is among the delegation and says Kodiak is a stark contrast to her city.
“I live in Beijing, so the best impression for me is less pollution,” said Zhang.
China’s northern capital city of more than 20 million people is infamous for smog. Zhang says she works for one of China’s largest media companies there.
“I work for Tencent as a video producer and we just try to understand how Alaska Seafood works and make a video about it,” said Zhang.
The group walks along a 1-foot wide wooden plank to the other side of the Buskin weir, where a net is full and the ADF&G crew is already pulling fish out of the water.
The weir trip was just one of many outings for the delegation, which also toured Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, and Alaska Pacific Seafoods processing plants in Kodiak as well as Icicle Seafoods in Larsen Bay.
Most of the visitors work in the seafood industry in areas from purchasing to development and media. And right in the middle of their visit, President Donald Trump proposed more tariffs on Chinese goods, including seafood reprocessed in China and exported back the United States.
But that doesn’t worry Wei Zhang, who works for SMH International in Shanghai, where he is also a representative for ASMI.
He says when he started working with ASMI 20 years ago, most Chinese consumers couldn’t find Alaska on a map. Now, people ask for it’s seafood by name, and they can order a fillet online and have it delivered to their home within hours.
“They are willing to pay a little more higher price, but the quality is the most important,” said Zhang.
And, he says, Chinese consumers believe Alaska seafood is one of the healthiest products available because of the virtually pollution-free environment here and strict food-safety rules.
“And for the safety, they think that is more safe for them, not just for the feeding for the family, and it is good for feeding for the kids,” said Zhang.
He says, in a country where lack of environmental and workplace regulation means it isn’t always easy to ensure food is pure, Alaskan seafood has an advantage.
Xin Lyu, who has been working in the seafood industry in China for more than 20 years, and she’s impressed by Alaska’s pristine waters and efficient food safety systems at processors. She says these are huge selling points.
“I think that right now safety is almost the number one point that they focus on,” said Lyu.
She is general manager for a seafood import/export company and CEO for Shanghai Hollywin Frozen Food. She said she had heard the news that new proposed tariffs had been announced by the Trump administration overnight, and it was troubling.
“We are really a little bit worried, but if you look for the long term I think seafood is more and more popular in China,” said Lyu.
Despite the continued tariffs, Lyu says, Alaska has something special that she believes will keep its products selling in China, at least to those who can afford them. China has a massive and growing middle class of consumers who have money to spend and want sustainable and wild seafood.
That’s also something ASMI and lots of Alaska seafood processors and fishermen are counting on.
The delegation will be in the U.S through July 14, making stops in Seattle and Anchorage, but the majority of their time was spent on Kodiak.