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It's nothing to squawk about when Tyson Foods, the world's biggest chicken producer, announces that it wants to move into Alaska's salmon market. In fact, after Tyson officials toured Alaska in late January, the state's fish industry fairly crowed with excitement.

John Tyson, vice chairman of operations, announced that the Arkansas-based food giant is already conducting tests on salmon nuggets and burgers. In a few years time, the company hopes to have a rainbow of easy-to-make seafood products on the market.

In preparation to enter the Alaska fishing industry, last year the company plunked down $212 million for two fish giants: Arctic Alaska Fisheries Corp., a Seattle-based firm that runs Alaska's biggest bottom-fishing fleet, and Louis Kemp Seafoods, America's largest manufacturer of imitation lobster and crab products.

Tyson Foods, also a marketer of beef, pork, vegetables and ethnic foods, enjoyed sales of $4 billion in 1991. The company hopes to double its revenues by 1995, looking to fish sales to bring in $300 to $500 million a year.

Looking into the industry's troubled waters to predict this year's catch:

* Are tanner crabs rebounding? During a 24-hour opening in January, fishers hauled in 530,000 pounds of the species in southern Cook Inlet -- the best catch since 1988. The harvest prompted predictions that depressed stocks are slowly coming back. King and dungeness crab levels are still too low for commercial fishing.

* A large return of pink salmon -- between 11.5 million and 28.2 million -- is forecast for Prince William Sound this summer. The mid-term estimate of 20 million pinks, set by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., would triple last year's pink runs.

* Word of a potential record herring season meant bad news to Alaska's sac roe fishermen. In late January, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicted a statewide harvest of 70,000 to 82,000 tons of sac roe this spring, eclipsing 1992's record of 62,000 tons. Canada and northern Europe also expect large herring runs. An abundant worldwide supply means lower prices, as it did for Alaska herring fishers harvesting last year's record run. Major herring quotas for around the state include: 9,500 to 11,000 tons, Southeast; 17,000 to 23,000 tons, Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet; and 36,000 tons, Togiak to Norton Sound.

* And there may be blues in store for Alaska red salmon fishermen. Swimming along on a sluggish economy, Japan's wholesale red salmon prices dropped sharply this winter -- 25 percent below last year's levels. Since most of Alaska's reds end up in Japan, the low prices could hurt fishers around the state who harvest the red fish. To make matters worse, U.S. processors still have more than 10 million frozen pounds of last year's red salmon on hand, unable to find Japanese buyers.
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Title Annotation:Inside Alaska Industry
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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