FISH FACTOR: Salmon outlook looks bright for 2017
A brighter outlook for Alaska’s upcoming salmon season just got even better.
Markets are looking good, the statewide salmon catch forecast of 204 million is up by a million fish, and the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay is breaking records for chilling its fish.
Last year nearly 40 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value came out of Bristol Bay. When its fish fetch a better paycheck for boosted quality due to chilling, it is felt throughout the entire salmon industry.
“The size of the Bay harvest has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere. Typically, it’s 35 to 40 percent of the global sockeye supply,” said Andy Wink, senior seafood analyst with the McDowell Group.
“When the base price in 2015 was 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest, sockeye prices in other areas fell and we also saw coho prices come way down. It’s a market moving fishery and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen,” he said.
The 2016 Bristol Bay harvest of 37 million sockeye salmon from the region’s five river systems was the second-largest in 20 years, and both drift and setnet harvesters chilled the largest amount of raw product in the history of the fishery.
That’s according to a processor survey done each year by Northern Economics Inc. of Anchorage by contract with the driftnet fishermen-funded and operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.
“This is huge for the retail potential of Bristol Bay,” said Rebecca Martello, BBRSDA executive director. “The fleet is making great strides to ensure Bristol Bay is a quality product and this definitely ties into all aspects of marketing and making Bristol Bay the premium brand we know it to be.”
The 2016 survey captured raw product data, fleet information, ice production volumes, chilling methods, and opinions of trends and priorities within the fishery.
Some highlights: Responses by the region’s 12 major processors showed that 71 percent of the Bristol Bay driftnet fleet’s 1,390 participants chilled their catches, compared to the previous high of 59 percent in 2012.
Of the total 212 million-pound Bristol Bay salmon harvest that crossed the docks, chilled fish topped an “astounding” 137 million pounds. Drifters delivered a record 123 million pounds of chilled sockeye, a 40 percent increase from the previous year.
The amount of salmon chilled by 858 setnetters decreased by 3 percent. The number of “dry deliveries” (unchilled) dropped below 22 percent, down nearly half from 2009.
Last year saw a big shift away from putting the reds into cans and focusing instead on more valuable products: fresh and frozen fillets and headed/gutted fish.
Canned production dropped by nearly 17 million pounds (just 27 percent compared to over 70 percent two decades ago), while H&G fresh production increased eight-fold to nearly 14 million pounds.
Salmon fillet production approached 50 million pounds, a 50 percent increase. Bristol Bay fishermen averaged 76 cents per pound for their sockeye salmon last year. The average chilling bonus has steadily increased since the processor survey began in 2008, from 11 cents per pound to 16 cents per pound in 2016.
At an average weight of 5.4 pounds, that makes each sockeye salmon caught last year worth more than $4.75 to fishermen.
The sockeye salmon harvest at Bristol Bay for 2017 is projected at 27.5 million fish. Swap Meat for seafood
A new marketing angle is designed to lure more Americans to eat wild Alaska seafood. It’s called Swap Meat and the name says it all.
“Alaska seafood is incredibly versatile, and Swap Meat is a way to use it in recipes where you traditionally use a different protein like pork or chicken or beef,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau.
Swap Meat, he said, aims to make seafood more approachable to American consumers. Studies show that many are hesitant to try fish or shellfish because they don’t know what to buy or how to prepare it.
The Swap Meat promotion provides a cartload of familiar recipes aimed at busy families that can go from stove to table in less than 30 minutes.
“Halibut corn dogs, quesadillas, sliders, soups, fajitas, cod parmesan, crab mac and cheese — there are so many ways to substitute Alaska seafood,” Woodrow said.
Swap Meat is being widely promoted with social media and direct contact with retailers and chefs. The ultimate goal is to get Americans to eat more seafood; federal dietary guidelines advise eating fish at least twice a week.
“The USDA recommends that Americans eat a minimum of 26 pounds of seafood a year. That’s only 8 ounces a week. Most Americans are averaging around 15 pounds a year,” Woodrow said.
There are some positive trends. Salmon, for example, is America’s top fish favorite.
“In the last year or so for the first time, salmon surpassed tuna as the number one fish consumed by Americans,” Woodrow said. “It’s number two behind shrimp still, but salmon is king of fish in the US.” (See more at www.wildalaskaseafood.com.)
Young for young fishermen
Alaska Rep. Don Young, along with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., introduced a bill last week to help assure a future for up and coming U.S. fishermen. Called the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, the legislation would create the first ever national grant program through the Department of Commerce to support training, education, and workplace development for the nation’s next generation of commercial fishermen.
In a press release, Young called the program “only one effort to preserve fishing heritage and encourage new participation in the industry.”
“Young fishermen are facing bigger challenges than ever before — new barriers to entry, limited training opportunities and a lack of support. This legislation is about supporting the livelihoods of fishing communities in Alaska and across the nation,” he said.
The program is modeled closely after the successful Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program.
The legislation would authorize up to $200,000 in competitive grants through NOAA’s Sea Grant Program to support training in seamanship, navigation, electronics, and safety; vessel and engine repair and maintenance, fishing gear engineering and technology; marketing, finances, business practices and more.
“Congressman Young understands the challenges young fishermen face, and we thank him for his strong leadership on this vital issue,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “Empowering the next generation of young fishermen is essential to economic opportunity, food security and our way of life.”