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Alaska fish factor: salmon prices soar

Laine Welch
17 July 2017, at 8:24am

As predicted, Alaskan fishermen are getting higher prices for their salmon this year. It’s good news following a 2016 season that saw lackluster catches in all regions but Bristol Bay, a failure of pink salmon runs, and paltry pay checks across nearly all the board.

Prices depend on the region, the species, the type of fishing gear and, most importantly, global market conditions. Salmon prices also reflect bonuses for iced fish, dock deliveries and other agreements between a buyer and seller.

As a fishing season unfolds, details can be sketchy as buyers watch the strength of the salmon runs. Until the fish are actually sold at the wholesale level, prices are in flux, and it’s tough to determine what a final outcome will be. It all adds up to a lot of uncertainty, making it tough for sellers and buyers to pencil in a bottom line. That said, a canvassing of fishermen, processors and managers show that early indicators are good.

Bristol Bay started the optimism when Copper River Seafoods in late June posted a price of $1.35 a pound for top quality sockeyes. Bay reds averaged $0.93 last summer. No word yet from other buyers as the sockeye run blows past the 27 million forecast with no end in sight.

At Kodiak, sockeye prices were posted at $1.40 for bled and chilled fish, compared to a 96 cent average last year. Chums, which are arriving in record numbers at parts of the island, were posted at $.40 cents a pound for bled and chilled fish, up from $0.29 on average at Kodiak last year. For early Kodiak pinks, a price of $.35 cents was on the board for bled/chilled fish, a $0.20 increase from 2016.  

Icicle Seafoods at Kodiak’s Larsen Bay has chums posted at $0.55 a pound for bled/chilled fish and $1.40 for sockeyes. Troll-caught kings from Southeast’s four-day July fishery fetched nearly $7 a pound according to fish tickets, up $2 from last summer’s average. Trollers now have switched to coho salmon and are averaging $1.40 a pound.      

Other Southeast fishermen also are seeing some record chum catches, which are fetching $0.80 a pound compared to just $0.25 on average last year. Gillnetters so far have caught nearly five times as many chum salmon this year compared to last year.

Similar chum prices were reported from Prince William Sound, up from $0.32.    

It’s the demand for roe that’s driving the interest in chums, most of which goes to Japan. Steady declines of Japan’s local fishery over a decade, which normally accounts for 70 percent of total chum roe supply, have sent prices soaring 30 to 40 percent over the past year.   

The news site Seafood.com reports that salted chum roe is selling at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market for $30-$35 a pound, the highest prices in 30 years.

Seafood Symphony switch

 The timeline for Alaska’s most celebrated seafood bash has been advanced by several months to broaden the exposure for new products.    

The 2018 Alaska Symphony of Seafood is switching its popular events from winter to the fall.  

“We heard from a number of companies that the timeline was a bit late for preparing new products and participating in national and international competitions. It will give winners more time to plan their travel and to enter their products in the Seafood Expo North America contest in Boston in March,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony for 25 years.

The annual contest showcases new products in four categories: retail, food service, Beyond the Egg and Beyond the Plate, which features items made from seafood byproducts. The judging now will occur during Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, set for November 16-19. The event will also feature a Hall of Fame that highlights winners over the past quarter of a century.

“It will be a really interesting opportunity for everyone to see product development trends over time,” Decker said. “With some of the winners, people will recognize common, everyday items that were actually Symphony winners many years ago. It will be a really fun way to encapsulate what 25 years has meant to the industry.”

The call for products is set for mid-August with an entry deadline of October 6. Get more info at the AFDF website.

Bay brand expands

The world’s biggest sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay is living up to its name, with a catch already topping the 27 million fish forecast and no end in sight.

Many of the reds will soon be showcased during an expanded program that builds on the success of a three-month pilot project last fall in Boulder, Colorado.  

“During that time our retail partners saw an 8-14 percent lift in sales compared to year over year. Based on those results, we decided to move forward and continue with some expansion and keep building our brand in other markets,” said Becky Martello, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

The fisherman-run group is bankrolling the “Wild Taste, Amazing Place” branding program with a one percent tax paid by drift netters on the landed value of their catch.

Details of the expanded promotion are still being worked out and Martello could not disclose the regional chains that plan to participate.

“We’ll be focusing on larger areas rather than retailers in one city as we did in Boulder,” she explained, adding that a big push will include National Seafood Month in October and during Lent.

In partnership with Anchorage-based Rising Tide Communications, the group has created in-store videos and digital images, recipes, chef specials, even fish wrapping paper and stickers bearing the Bristol Bay logo. The most important component, Martello said, is training the people behind the seafood counters.  

“We educate the retail staff so they can be champions of the brand and really sell it to customers. They are able to talk about why Bristol Bay salmon is a good choice, and explain how they are supporting small boat fishermen,” she added.