A delegation from China visited Kodiak Island 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, so Alaska Department of Fish and Game employees in Kodiak are seining for sockeye salmon at the Buskin River weir.
The Chinese delegation has come to learn about local fisheries management, said Tyler Polum, sport fisheries area management biologist.
“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,” Polum said. “We’ll show them how we sample fish to get age, sex, and length from them.”
Among the delegation, Mingzhen Zhang says Kodiak is a stark contrast to her city.
“I live in Beijing, so the best impression for me is less pollution,” Zhang said.
China’s northern capital city of more than 20 million people is infamous for smog.
Zhang 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,” Zhang said.
The group walks along a one-foot-wide wooden plank to the other side of the Buskin weir, where a net is full and the Fish and Game crew already is 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.
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 Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Zhang says when he started working with the marketing institute 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,” Zhang said.
Zhang 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.
“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,” Zhang said.
Zhang says Alaskan seafood has an advantage in a country where lack of environmental and workplace regulation means it isn’t always easy to ensure food is pure.
Xin Lyu has been working in the seafood industry in China for more than 20 years.
Lyu is impressed by Alaska’s pristine waters and efficient food safety systems at processors: huge selling points.
“I think that right now safety is almost the number one point that they focus on,” Lyu said.
Lyu is general manager for a seafood import/export company and CEO for Shanghai Hollywin Frozen Food.
Lyu said the news of new proposed tariffs was troubling. The Trump administration announced the tariffs overnight.
“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,” Lyu said.
Despite the continued tariffs, Lyu said 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 with money to spend and want sustainable and wild seafood.
ASMI and lots of Alaska seafood processors and fishermen are counting on it.
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.