FISH FACTOR: Salmon surge to Bay as prices rebound

As predicted, Alaska 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 paychecks nearly across the board.

Prices paid to Alaska salmon fishermen 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 shows that early indicators are good.

Bristol Bay started the optimism when Copper River Seafoods in late June posted a price of $1.35 per pound for top quality sockeyes. Bay reds averaged 93 cents per pound 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 cents average last year.

Chums, which are arriving in record numbers at parts of the island, were posted at 40 cents per pound for bled and chilled fish, up from 29 cents on average at Kodiak last year.

For early Kodiak pinks, a price of 35 cents was on the board for bled/chilled fish, a 20-cent increase from 2016.

Icicle Seafoods at Kodiak’s Larsen Bay has chums posted at 55 cents per pound for bled/chilled fish and $1.40 for sockeyes.

Troll caught kings from Southeast’s four-day July fishery fetched nearly $7 per pound according to fish tickets, up $2 from last summer’s average. Trollers now have switched to coho salmon and are averaging $1.40 per pound.

Other Southeast fishermen also are seeing some record chum catches which are fetching 80 cents per pound for chums compared to just 25 cents 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 32 cents.

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 to $35 per 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 the traditional winter unveilings 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 Nov. 16-19.

The November event also will 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.”

An official awards ceremony is planned at a special seafood soiree set for February in Juneau.

For 2017, Coppa of Juneau took home the grand prize and tops in food service for its candied salmon ice cream.

Dear North Alaska Salmon Bites, a product of the Huna Totem Corp., won first at retail. Bruce Gore Coho Salmon Bottarga by Triad Fisheries won in the Beyond the Egg category, and Tidal Vision of Juneau’s Crystal Clarity pool cleaner made from crab shells was the winner of Beyond the Plate.

The call for products is set for mid-August with an entry deadline of Oct. 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 with 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, Colo.

“During that time our retail partners saw an 8 to14 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.

Support for the program has been strong all along the supply chain, including Bay processors.

“I feel like we’ve really opened the door for communication and collaboration between us as a fishermen’s group and the processing sector,” Martello said.

Five Bristol Bay processors this year also will send out their fresh and frozen sockeye salmon with 200,000 labels featuring the Wild Taste, Amazing Place brand which directs customers to learn more at www.bristolbaysockeye.org.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact msfish@alaskan.com for information.

Updated: 
07/19/2017 - 1:30pm

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