FISH FACTOR: Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run strong, but prices aren’t


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It came as no surprise when the first price postings last week tanked for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon to $1.20 per pound, with an extra 15 cents for chilled fish. That compares to a base price of $1.50 a pound last year.

The Bristol Bay catch topped 28 million reds by July 18, 11 million more than projected, and the fish were still coming. (Alaska’s total sockeye salmon catch as of July 18 was more than 37 million and counting.)

Demand for the fish is strong among both foreign and U.S. buyers, but the downward press on prices stems from lots of competing red salmon rivals in the works this year.

The sockeye run at the lower Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam set a record last week, topping a half-million fish, the most since the dam was completed in 1938. Russia’s sockeye salmon catches topped 31 million early in July, and that number will go higher. And all eyes will be on British Columbia’s Fraser River, where sockeyes are just beginning to show. The largest sockeye return in 100 years is expected at the Fraser this summer, up to 75 million fish.

It’s a matter of wait-and-see if the Fraser run materializes in the next month. If it fizzles, it could mean some nice retro payments for Alaska salmon fishermen months from now after most of the sales are made. But it remains to be seen how all the sockeye dynamics play out in global markets, both this year and next.

“If we get more Russian sockeye coming into our more premium markets, if we get a large Fraser River harvest, and if processors aren’t able to move a lot of the product before that happens, then we could see wholesale values take quite a tumble,” said Andy Wink, lead fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Juneau. “We will have to see how things shake out, because a lot will happen after our season is done. But processors are going to have to pay a certain amount to assure themselves of supply in the bay this year. Where that comes in next year will depend on what happens this fall at Fraser River.”

Pebble push back

First Alaskans, fishermen and sportsmen around the country applauded the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that it plans to impose restrictions on large scale mining operations in the Bristol Bay region, such as the proposed Pebble Mine.

A draft report released last week said development of such a mine would have “unacceptable adverse impacts” to the Bristol Bay watershed, and that the action is necessary “to protect the world’s greatest salmon fishery” from what the EPA called “an open pit for copper and gold extraction nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon.”

The EPA began an official push in February to protect the Bristol Bay watershed from large scale mining. In May, Pebble owners sued to stop EPA from shutting down the mining project and the state has sided with Pebble in the lawsuit.

EPA administrator Dennis McLerran said on July 18 that the agency’s action is not a “preemptive veto” before the mine owners apply for a permit. Using its authority under the Clean Water Act, the EPA proposes to ban any mine that would destroy more than 5 miles of salmon streams, or 19 miles of tributaries; fill in 1,100 or more acres of wetlands; and reroute flows of salmon streams.

Public meetings in Alaska are scheduled in August. The deadline to comment on the EPA report is Sept. 19.

Dock talk

In a nod to gender neutrality, bureaucrats and media have adopted the term “fisher” when referring to those who harvest fish from the sea. Here’s a sampler of Kodiak responses when fishing men and women were asked how they feel about the term:

• “I would much rather be called a fisherman than a fisher women. I don’t want to be treated like a woman on the boat. I want to be treated like a crew member.”

• “As a woman I have always considered myself a fisherman. My dad has always taught me how to fish, and I feel like it is something that is important to many families. I think it should stay the way that it is”

• “You can put too much weight on the gender bias thing. Accept people for who they are. Why do we have to change it because somebody is offended? We are changing so many things in this country because somebody is offended.”

• “It’s been used for hundreds of years. Whether you’re a fisher guy or a fisher woman, it’s always been fisherman.”

• “A fisherman is a fisherman. That’s the term. This gender neutrality has gone too far.”

• “I’m offended to change. And I’m tired of it. An oldsquaw (sea duck) will always be an oldsquaw and they came up with a new name for that duck (long-tailed).”

• “I understand it is a historical thing. It eliminates the women and it would be nice to have something, but fisher is not it.”

• “A fisher person would be just fine. And if a woman wants to be called a fisher lady, that would be acceptable as well.”

• “A fisherman will always be a fisherman. Whether it is a female, boy, child, man, or woman. It doesn’t really matter.”

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

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