Alaska seafood industry hopes to triple exports to China after trade mission

Published: Jun. 6, 2018 at 2:46 PM AKDT
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Seafood is Alaska's largest commodity, and China is the state's largest trading partner. In 2017, the Alaska Office of International Trade reports Alaska exported about a billion dollars worth of seafood to China, a figure Governor Bill Walker would like to triple.

"Nothing happens quick," said Walker. "But I think as a goal, as we grow our seafood market opportunity, that's something we sit down with the seafood processor and say 'How do we grow this opportunity for increased exports out of Alaska?' "

Although increasing seafood exports to $3 billion might seem ambitious, Jeff Welbourn, Sr. Dir of China Business for Trident Seafood Corp., says an evolving Chinese economy could make it possible.

"China has been a manufacturing, reprocessing sector," said Welbourn. "We're kind of excited because we see opportunity for higher value products coming into this market."

Those higher value products include black cod, halibut and sockeye salmon. In the past, byproduct and headed and gutted fish sold to China included items like wild Alaskan pollock and pink salmon.

"All these products here for reprocessing to a consumer market has been the real prize," said Welbourn. "And it could triple in size pretty easily."

In recent years, Welbourn says the Chinese consumer has moved away from lesser products. Today, they're demanding more transparency and higher quality-- a value added, premium market, which the Alaska seafood industry is poised to serve.

Although there are several platforms for Alaska seafood companies to break into the Chinese consumer market, like Alibaba or, protecting the 'Alaska' brand, to make sure it isn't considered just another 'premium product,' and is protected against imitators is a high priority for Alaska’s seafood marketers.

"For us to look at what we could bring here, and how not to get lost, we have to band together as a state," said Welbourn. "That's the only way to get a big enough voice to resonate. It's just very important that we build that transparency and traceability through our systems.

Watch "China Trade: Alaska's New Frontier?" Wednesday night on the News Hour and Thursday in the Late Edition (the hockey game pre-empts the News Hour).