Buying Salmon In Alaska

A Short Story

Recently (pre Covid) we were on an end of season cruise in Alaska that was to be followed by a cruise down the California coast. Near the end of the Alaska itinerary the cruise ship was liquidating all the smoked and canned salmon in their gift shop. Generally the cruise ports in Alaska sell the packaged salmon at pretty good prices and near the seasons end there are even some good sales, but the prices in the ship’s gift shop were incredible. The last Alaska port on the cruise was Skagway. We thought that because it was a town in America with a U.S. Post Office we could mail our salmon home.

Early in the day in Skagway we walked into town to the post office and picked up a number of USPS cartons. At the hardware store we also bought some packing tape and returned to our stateroom on the ship to box up our salmon for mailing. After boxing up five cartons worth we went to leave the ship to take the packages to the post office.

Only Government Could Think This Way

At the gangway with the ships security was a person stationed there by U.S. Customs (not an agent) with orders that nobody could leave the ship with large packages without them being inspected by a customs agent. Of course the customs office was closed for the day (about 11 am). The young man guarding the ship seemed a bit confused as to what his instructions meant. It seemed that when we sailed out of Skagway our next stop was going to be Vancouver, Canada which might have been the issue? Probably not though. Maybe people were smuggling forbidden items into America by cruising? Probably not though.

After some questioning it seemed that the postal packages were the problem so he allowed us to tear down all the cartons and leave just with the individual Alaskan caught and packaged salmon. Soon we were at the post office again with our salmon and the remaining packing tape, filling new USPS mailing cartons that we mailed home.

But Wait, There’s More.

Skagway main street

As our ship sailed out of Skagway we realized that the gift shop had lowered the prices again on the last remaining salmon. We couldn’t resist, We bought more. Upon docking in Vancouver there were no customs forms and since we were cruising next down the west coast of the United States, we just kept the salmon in our stateroom.

The next day we docked in Seattle and there was a casual customs check but no forms or declarations to file. When asked about anything to declare we explained that we had some salmon we bought in Alaska and since it came from the U.S. there didn’t seem to be any concern. Three days later the ship stopped in San Francisco and again we left the ship with the salmon. Several blocks away from the pier we again mailed more salmon home at a post office.

Wouldn’t you think that U.S. Customs and Immigration would have more important things to do than protect a U.S. port from salmon caught and processed in a U.S. state having U.S. citizens go to a U.S. Post Office to mail it to their home in the United States? Maybe the original problem had to do with our ship being flagged in a foreign country? Could the U.S. salmon have been technically exported to the ship? That raises the question if you need to pay duty on U.S. products bought overseas and brought back into the U>S.? If we tried to mail the salmon home from Vancouver would we have been required to fill out postal customs forms? After more consideration we decided this was just government being government and trying to be official without much thinking..

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