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Saturday, August 14, 2004 - Page updated at 06:56 P.M.

Alaska town aims to hook more tourists with free fish

By The Associated Press

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NWsource: Travel
Each summer, about 8 million pink salmon swim into Valdez waters, but the run of tourists has been dwindling.

So some Valdez residents have hatched a plan to provide a free, frozen-fresh pink salmon to anyone who drives up the Alaska Highway and later pays a visit to the Prince William Sound port city.

"This is to entice people visiting Alaska to come down to Valdez and spend a few days here," said Dave Cobb, business manager of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association, a private nonprofit pink- and silver-salmon hatchery.

Cobb and two other local men, Bill Wyatt and Bill Walker, devised the fish giveaway plan.

Last year, 20 million pink salmon returned to Valdez — the largest return on record.

"It was just out of control," said Lisa Von Bargen, director of the city's Department of Community and Economic Development. "You only had to stick your hand in the water and grab a fish."

The huge salmon runs have been occurring, Von Bargen said, as fewer and fewer summer cruise ships have been docking at Port Valdez.

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More information: Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau: 907-835-2984, www.valdezalaska.org

Several years ago, as many as 96 ships docked at Valdez in a single season, while last summer, only 16 visited, said Lee Revis, a reporter for the weekly Valdez Star.

Valdez offers fewer shore excursions than other Alaska towns visited by cruise ships. Also, because of security increases after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the trans-Alaska oil-pipeline terminal is now closed for tours.

Cobb and his friends hope to reel more tourists in with their plan, which calls for motorists who stop at Buckshot Betty's restaurant in Beaver Creek in Canada's Yukon to be given a coupon for a free pink salmon, or humpy. Beaver Creek is the last town in Canada before the highway crosses into Alaska.

The coupon will be redeemable in Valdez for one headed, gutted, vacuum-sealed fish, Cobb said. The Fisheries Development Association will bear the cost initially, and its staff will clean and freeze the salmon.

"It's to give them the idea, 'Maybe instead of going down to the Kenai, I'll go to Valdez,' " Cobb said. "The people are already into Alaska. By intercepting their thought process ... hopefully this will influence where they go."

Customers at the restaurant will receive a sort of "gift basket" that includes the free-salmon coupon, as well as a compact disc that guides visitors to attractions along the route from Beaver Creek to Valdez.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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