An international airplane feud could crimp one of Alaska’s most lucrative fisheries

Crew members shovel pollock off the deck of a Bering Sea fishing boat earlier this year. (Photo by Nathaniel Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

A new twist in a decade-long trade war over airplanes could crimp one of Alaska’s most lucrative fisheries: The European Union is threatening new import taxes on Alaska pollock.

The tariffs stem from a feud over government support for the American company Boeing and European company Airbus. Earlier this year, the World Trade Organization issued separate rulings that said both companies have received illegal subsidies.

In response, both the U.S. and EU last month proposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of the other’s exports.

The potential effects underscore the global nature of the market for Alaska fish products, of which Europe and Asia are big consumers.

The proposed EU tariffs on pollock would hit the largest market for fillets of the Bering Sea whitefish. European processors turn blocks of frozen pollock into fish sticks and fish pies; more than $250 million in exports go to Europe each year, or a little less than 20% of the $1.4 billion value of the total annual pollock catch.

“It’s a key market,” said Dan Lesh, an analyst with the McDowell Group, a research firm that works with the fishing industry and is studying the tariffs’ impact.

The EU’s proposed tariffs would also apply to about $70 million of salmon and Pacific cod.

The tariffs could affect the price of fish in Europe, make it less widely available or cut into the profits of the American companies that catch pollock in the Bering Sea.

“A lot of this trade would still continue,” Lesh said. “But the price would go up.”

The dispute isn’t just about fish. The EU tariffs would affect some $20 billion of American products, including ketchup, handbags and tractors.

The EU proposal came after President Donald Trump’s administration threatened its own set of tariffs on $11 billion in European products, including wine and dairy.

Trump himself has weighed in, tweeting last month, “The EU has taken advantage of the U.S. on trade for many years. It will soon stop!”

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