The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released details of a bid to buy over 815,000 pounds of frozen Alaska pollock.

The product will be used for the agency's National School Lunch program and Federal Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs across the United States.

Deliveries will be made between Jan. 1 and March 31 of next year.

The USDA has been ramping up its purchasing and bid requests for both wild salmon and pollock this year, following marketing groups pleas for help with cutting the glut and making room for even more fish.

Alaska seafood processors have drawn the ire of fishermen this year for the low prices they are paying for sockeye, pink and other salmon species.

Processors blame high levels of unsold inventory from last year's season, weak consumer demand and collapsing wholesale markets for the low prices, some of the lowest in decades.

Growing requests for USDA involvement

In recent months major seafood companies including OBI Seafoods have supported legislation to increase USDA seafood bids and create an office of seafood policy within the USDA as one way to deal with the market fallout.

"It is imperative to have increased availability of USDA bids during instances of seafood oversupply," the OBI Seafoods executives said. "Currently, when a surplus (oversupply) occurs, it takes more than six months for USDA to react with a bid. This delay renders the response ineffective."

The Alaska seafood industry's particular focus on the USDA as a customer was even evident in this year's Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) All Hands meeting.

"In 2023, at the request of the wild Alaska Pollock (WAP) and Salmon sectors, ASMI’s Global Food Aid Program (AGFAP) worked consistently with USDA make sure they understand the value of sustainable wild Alaska seafood to their programs," said ASMI's Global Food Aid Program Director Bruce Schactler in a recent report. "Hard work is paying off…United States Government (USG) purchases grew well over 2022 numbers in just the first nine months of 2023."

In 2023 to date, USDA has so far purchased more than $204 million (€190 million) worth of Alaska pink and sockeye salmon as well as pollock, a significant increased over 2022’s $160 million (€149 million) purchases, according to Schactler.

"We are planning on continued large Alaska seafood purchases in early FY24 (fiscal year), to make sure there is a steady and uninterrupted supply for USDA clients," his report said.

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