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Alaska Fish Factor: Sockeye Salmon Landings Break Record

Salmonids Sustainability Economics +5 more

US - The worlds biggest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay went from bust to unbelievable in one week. Landings last week broke records every day for five days for that time frame, bringing the total sockeye catch to nearly 28 million fish on an unusually long-tailed run - and the reds were still coming on strong.

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That had overloaded processors scurrying to replace workers they’d sent home the previous week when the big forecasted run was deemed a no show. The late surge of sockeyes also left many fishermen frustrated with limits to their catches, while tenders were trekking the abundance of reds to other regions for processing. It remains to be seen how long the run will last, and if it will produce the 38 million projected catch.

Bristol Bay’s sockeye catch can add up to nearly two-thirds of Alaska’s total salmon fishery value.

Going into the season, buyers were bracing for another huge sockeye haul amid freezers and shelves still full of fish from last year’s big haul. Now, the uncertainty has put any updated price indications on hold until buyers see how the Bay run plays out.

Market reports from the U.S., Japan and Europe say most buyers are waiting for the majors, such as Trident and Ocean Beauty, to make large volume sockeye purchases before sales prices will start to surface and settle out.

For more than a month, unconfirmed reports have put the grounds price for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon at $.65 a pound, with an extra 15 cents for chilled fish. That compares to a Bay base price average of $1.20 last year.

The Kodiak sockeye base price to fishermen was reported at $.80 and $.95 at Southeast Alaska. Both regions paid in the $1.75 a pound range last year. The statewide average sockeye price to Alaska fishermen in 2014 was $1.37 a pound.

From reds to pinks - Meanwhile, pink production is coming on line in major regions. Prince William Sound seiners were catching two million pinks a day, and nearing 20 million fish by July 17. Much of the overload was being sent out to Kodiak and Southeast for processing. Pinks also were showing up slowly at Southeast Alaska where a whopping 58 million catch is expected this summer. Most pink salmon prices are reportedly starting in the 20-25 cent range, down about a dime from the statewide average last year.

Fish faves - The whole point of catching fish is to have it end up on dinner plates. Most Americans eat their seafood at restaurants and the highest ranking fish dish at the Top 500 fast-casual restaurants is salmon, although cod is quickly becoming a big menu favorite. Crab dishes also have ticked up by nearly 2 percent on US restaurant menus.

That’s according to Chicago-based Technomic which for 45 years has tracked and analyzed the US food industry. A new report says that only six percent of seafood entrees occur on menus at fast-casual eateries, and 54 percent of diners said they would like to see more seafood varieties.

Shrimp still ranks as America’s top seafood choice, but fast becoming a favorite is sushi. Sushi appetizers in their various varieties soared over 43 percent on menus so far this year compared to last, Technomic said, and many Americans are eating sushi on a regular basis – especially Millennials, people born between 1980 and the mid-2000s.

Fish grades at grocers - Switching from restaurants to supermarkets – 82 percent of the nation’s top 25 grocery chains got passing grades this week from Greenpeace for their eco-friendly seafood practices and protection of workers’ rights.

In its 9th annual Carting Away the Oceans Report, Whole Foods topped the scorecard for the third year running, followed by Wegman’s, Hy-Vee, Safeway and Target. Failing grades went to Publix, Southeastern Grocers, Roundy’s, A&P and Save Mart.

The mixed kudos, unfortunately, are backhanded compliments as Greenpeace concludes its report by advising consumers to “Eat less fish.”

“Today’s demand for seafood far outstrips what can be delivered from sustainable sources. Reducing seafood consumption now can help lessen the pressure on our oceans, ensuring fish for the future,” Greenpeace wrote.

That advice drew searing criticism from the National Fisheries Institute which stated in a long rebuttal: “No longer content to hide its dangerous ulterior agenda behind a thin veneer of inference and insinuation, Greenpeace is now openly calling for Americans to ‘eat less seafood. This not only destroys whatever shreds of credibility Greenpeace had left, but puts its fringe activists at odds with just about every medical and nutritional expert in the world including the (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration.”

Labels for Frankenfish – Consumers will know if the salmon they are eating are “real” fish and not “manmade” if a measure by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) gets the nod by the full Senate.
Murkowski last week added language to the FY16 Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spending bill that will require labeling for any genetically engineered (GE) salmon sold in the U.S.

A GE tweaked Atlantic salmon, engineered to grow twice as fast as a normal fish, is being produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, which has been awaiting FDA approval for nearly two decades. Murkowski is among the staunchest critics due to concerns about interbreeding with wild stocks and the general uncertainty about the science behind GE products.

“If the FDA moves forward, as it currently is, there would not be a requirement to ensure that people know what it is that they are eating,” Murkowski said. “People need to know whether they are eating a genetically-engineered fish or they are eating a wild Alaskan salmon that we promote so strongly in our state.

The House Committee on Agriculture also passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act last week, earning accolades from the grocery industry. The bi-partisan bill aims to establish a uniform labeling standard for foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and also for GMO-free foods. The committee hopes to have the bill pass the full House before the August recess.