Alaska's salmon season is officially underway

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
16 May 2007, at 1:00am

ALASKA - Alaska's 2007 salmon season is officially underway and it promises to be another good one. The statewide catch is projected to come in at 171 million fish, up more than 21 percent from the 2006 season. The fish will go to an expanding mix of global markets that have a growing appreciation for the superior taste and health benefits of wild salmon.

Four of the five salmon species harvested in Alaska have showed upward ticks in dockside and wholesale prices in recent years. The one exception is sockeye salmon (reds), which account for up to two-thirds of the total value of the statewide catch.

The average price for sockeye last year was 67-cents a pound, down from 73-cents in 2005. Two important trends are driving the sockeye slump, according to industry analyst Chris McDowell of the Juneau-based McDowell Research & Consulting Group.

Most importantly, there has been a dramatic drop in sockeye salmon exports to Alaska's most important seafood customer, Japan.

"Japan has traditionally taken about 75 to 80 percent of Alaska's H&G (headed and gutted) frozen sockeye pack. For 2006 Japan received 37 percent," McDowell said. That has made available about 30 million pounds of frozen reds to other markets, primarily the U.S. and Europe.

"I think demand is still maturing in those markets and that's part of what has kept the prices down a bit for sockeye," he added.

Hefty catches have also kept a downward press on the conventional sockeye market. In the past 110 years, the Alaska harvest has topped 40 million fish just 13 times - three of those occurred in the past three years. The catch projection for reds calls for a similar haul this year.

"This will be the year when we see to what extent the alternative markets are ready to absorb the additional volume of sockeye at a price that benefits the Alaska industry, "McDowell said.

There are likely to be additional volumes of pink salmon for growing markets to absorb as well. Last year Alaska had one of the smallest humpy harvests ever, but forecasters are calling for a bumper catch in 2007. Pink salmon abundance traditionally ebbs and flows on a two year cycle, and 2005 yielded the largest harvest ever topping 160 fish.

Source: SitNews