The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has agreed to purchase up to $119.5 million (€108.3 million) worth of Alaskan sockeye and Pacific groundfish, which will be distributed across the country through federal food assistance programs.

In March, Alaska lawmakers Lisa Murkowski and Mary Peltola sent a letter to the US Secretary of Agriculture, urging him to consider a request submitted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) to increase the supply of nutritious seafood to food-insecure Americans through USDA’s Section 32 program.

Section 32 purchases draw their name from Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The Act authorizes a percentage of customs receipts to be transferred to the Secretary of Agriculture to support the prices of surplus domestic commodities, which are then distributed through various USDA programs, including schools, childcare programs, and food banks.

The bid has not been formally posted on the USDA site, but the Section 32 purchase includes:

  • Canned Alaska sockeye salmon for up to $37.5 million (€34 million)
  • Alaska sockeye fillet salmon for up to $30 million (€27 million)
  • Pacific groundfish for up to $52 million (€47 million)

A good time to buy

A record Alaska harvest that caused a tsunami of wild sockeye salmon on the market is weighing heavily on processors just weeks before the start of the upcoming season.

With inventory high, salmon marketing groups, fishermen and processors are working in many different directions to cut the salmon glut and make room for this year's wave of new fish to provide some relief for processors feeling the financial burden caused by weak demand and over-full cold storage warehouses.

ASMI, for example, has been working with coupon agencies to motivate more retailers to promote Alaska salmon and give inflation-strapped consumers a break.

The 2022 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run of 79 million fish was the largest run on record and was 81 percent above the 43.6 million average run for the latest 20-year period.

The catch this year is expected to be smaller, but remains historically large at 38 million fish.

Last year's catch of just over 60 million sockeye salmon in Alaska's Bristol Bay made it 104 percent higher than the recent 20-year average of 29.4 million. The catch this year is expected to be smaller, but remains historically large at 38 million fish.

The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food nutrition programs are another avenue Alaska seafood processors are looking to for restoring balance to market.

Over the past few years, the USDA has become of the US seafood industry's most important customers, with the value of US seafood used in USDA contracts tripling from 2014 to 2021 alone.