Friday, January 13, 2012

Cold Bay's Strategic Location Ideally Suited for Transporting Live Crab to Asia

By Ernie Weiss, AEB Natural Resources Director

It's an idea that's been around for quite a while, but whose time may finally have come: the transport of live crab directly from the Aleutians East Borough 'hub' port of Cold Bay to markets in China and other Asian countries.

Former Cold Bay terminal manager Monty Martin was a founding member of the Cold Bay International Airport Enhancement Committee (CIAEC) in the fall of 2009, soliciting support for the shipment of raw fish products such as king crab, cod milt, fresh salmon fillets and roe through the Cold Bay hub. The idea is far from new, but has new life, due to recent events.

Back from an official trip to China, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell was featured on a recent KTUU Channel 2 news story.

"The administration is definitely increasing our visibility throughout the world, where we see opportunity for increasing our exports and building investment in Alaska, particularly adding value to our products," Bell said.

Last month, Commissioner Bell, along with Department of Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken and other state officials, met with AEB Mayor Stanley Mack and other representatives from the Borough and crab industry. The Governor's Rural Affairs Advisor, John Moller, had set up the meeting for the attendees to discuss the potential new Asian-Alaskan seafood connections. The State of Alaska expects China to be its top export customer in 2012, overtaking Japan, which until recently, had been purchasing more of Alaska's goods than any other country.

Alaska Crab Coalition Executive Director Arni Thomson hand-carried a letter from Mayor Mack to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) Board of Directors and shellfish committee meeting in Seattle.

"We believe the time is right and markets are ready for live crab harvested in Aleutian East Borough waters to be enjoyed worldwide," Mayor Mack said in his letter.

Additionally, Mayor Mack is looking for support from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in the AEB's effort to get a tarmac built to the new AEB airport terminal. State DOTPF will need to take the lead on getting an apron to the runway built.

Thomson has been working with Aleutians East Borough Natural Resources Director Ernie Weiss on the transport of live crab proposal for several months, building on previous work done by Monty Martin.

There is a heightened interest for live crab in China, Korea and other points in Asia, and there are 500 planes a week from Anchorage heading to Asia. However, this project aims not to take any business away from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, but to establish a brand new market option, making use of the location of the 10,415-foot main runway in Cold Bay (with the additional 5,125-foot crosswind runway) so critically close to the crab fishing grounds.

DOT Commissioner Luiken stated at the meeting that regulatory issues wouldn't be the biggest obstacle to the success of the project, but that success would depend on getting the interest of both the airlines and the processors. The business model needs to look at how much product will be available, and how often, to determine if the project is feasible. If needed, a customs agent should be a cost-sharing item between industry and government.

Jim Stone with the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers told the teleconference that his group of harvesters and processors are planning on shipping live snow crab out of Dutch Harbor this January, but are expecting significant dead loss, due to the extra stop in Anchorage. The world class airfield in Cold Bay will support larger planes that can fly directly from the Aleutians East to Asia, eliminating nearly all dead loss.

Ernie Weiss will continue to work with DCCED Deputy Commissioner Curtis Thayer and Arni Thomson to facilitate the forward momentum of the initiative to ship live crab directly to China from Cold Bay.

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