Point of View: Banning Russian seafood imports is good for Alaska

In Alaska, it is well known that “Seafood sustains us.”

What isn’t as well known is that Alaskan seafood also sustains the rest of the United States and the world. Alaska produces nearly two-thirds of our nation’s wild-caught seafood and supplies around 100 countries with seafood worldwide.

Supporting our fishing industry is a no-brainer.

So, when the seafood industry in Alaska has been under attack for almost a decade by Russia’s lack of sustainable fishing practices and artificially low prices, it is in our best interest as a nation to protect it by enacting policies that penalize the purchase of Russian-origin seafood products and rescinding any certifications issued to Russian fisheries by the Marine Stewardship Council.

The first strike against Alaska’s seafood industry came with the Russian embargo in 2014, which expelled Alaska from the Russian market. This left a big hole in our market at the time, but we as Alaskans are resilient and were able to fill that gap with new markets and expand our reach.

More recently, the war in Ukraine inflicted another wound and has impaired Alaska’s ability to compete fairly with Russian seafood products on the global market. As the U.S. dollar remains strong, the Russian ruble has plummeted enabling Russia to sell its seafood at historically low market values and fund their senseless war. This has led to depressed commodity prices and lower values for Alaskan seafood. For example, the price of Alaska salmon ex-vessel dropped by over $300 million in 2023.

In March of 2022, the U.S. addressed this problem with a ban on direct imports of Russian seafood; however, that ban was proven to not be enough. Despite our best efforts, Russia continued to profit from the U.S. market through indirect imports of Russian-origin seafood products.

In other words, seafood that is sourced from Russia and processed elsewhere, like China, continued infiltrating the global marketplace.

In 2022, the U.S. allowed approximately 70,000 metric tons of Russian-origin cod, salmon, and pollock to be imported from China, a total value of $356 million. The European Union recognized this problem and removed fishery products originating in Russia from duty-free treatment or “most-favoured nation” treatment. Now, after years of advocacy from governor Dunleavy and Alaska’s congressional delegation, by presidential executive order Russian seafood will be banned from entering the U.S. regardless of where it is processed.

This was the right decision as continuing to allow the purchase of Russian-origin seafood not only harms Alaska’s seafood industry but also violates responsible environmental and social governance practices.

On a scale from 1-5, one being the best-performing and 5 being the worst, Russia received a 3.20 in the 2023 Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Risk Index report. This annual report, published by Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Limited and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, measures the degree to which countries are exposed to and effectively combat IUU fishing in their territories.

The only other country that performed worse than Russia was China, with a score of 3.69. By continuing to certify Russian and Chinese fisheries, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has failed in its duty to “end overfishing and ensure seafood is fished sustainably.”

The MSC should reevaluate the criteria used to certify fisheries and stop allowing IUU fisheries with high scores to be certified under its program. These certifications are now misleading to consumers and perpetuate the current skewed playing field in Russia’s favor.

Eliminating the import of Russian seafood, by all means, shows the world that the U.S. will not tolerate unjust practices that jeopardize the sustainability of our natural resources and economic prosperity. Aside from these sanctions, it is also time to end MSC certifications for Russian fisheries. Alaskan seafood sustains Alaska, our nation, and the world. Let’s protect it.

Julie Sande is the commissioner for the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. Doug Vincent-Lang is the commissioner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.