For the 12th straight year, the port of Dutch Harbor/ Unalaska netted the top spot last year in terms of seafood landings. The National Marine Fisheries Service announced earlier this month that commercial fishermen delivered 699.8 million pounds of fish to Dutch Harbor, making it the port with the highest volume of landings in the nation. That’s an increase of 20.5 million pounds over 1999 landings. Cameron, La., was ranked as the No. 2 port for the quantity of landings in 2000, with 414.5 million pounds.
New Bedford, Mass., claimed the title of the port with the greatest value at $146.3 million, an increase of $16.4 million from the 1999 value. Dutch Harbor/Unalaska was second with landings valued at $124.9 million -- a decrease of $15.9 million, while the Kodiak catch value was third at $94.7 million last year -- down from $104.8 million in 1999.
The large increase in value of New Bedford landings for the second year was primarily because of sea scallops, with a landings value increase from about $70 million in 1999 to $83 million in 2000. New Bedford returns to the top value port, after a nine-year absence in part because of the 1994 collapse of the New England groundfish fishery and declining numbers of sea scallops. Part of the landings value decrease in 2000 at Dutch Harbor was because of a decrease in the opilio, or snow, crab catch.
The all-time record landings for volume was 848.2 million pounds in Los Angeles in 1960, and the record for value was $224.1 million in Dutch Harbor in 1994.
Chum salmon projections
According to market analyst Bill Atkinson, the Hokkaido Fisheries Committee recently announced its projection for this year’s fall chum salmon fishery. The forecast calls for an estimated run of 36.7 million fish for the season, with the coastal catch about 21 percent higher than last year.
Atkinson said importers only expect about 32,760 tons of frozen sockeye salmon to be available for the Japanese market from operations in North America this year. The majority of the supply will come from operations in Alaska -- about 28,640 tons -- with the balance expected from fisheries in British Columbia and Puget Sound.
"The poor runs in most regions in Alaska are partly behind the limited supply of frozen sockeye in Alaska, although canned production also cut into the overall supply," Atkinson said. "The larger packers reportedly canned between 55 percent and 60 percent of the fish that they purchased this year.
"This compares with preseason projections that only about 40 percent of the sockeye purchased would go into the can. With the increased canned production, only about 15,800 tons of frozen sockeye salmon is expected to be available from the Bristol Bay fishery this year."
Farmed fish surge
It’s a sad fact that farmed salmon from Chile continues to clobber wild fish in world markets. To get a steady dose of how dismal the situation really is, check out "Finning News," which provides daily updates on Chile’s fish farming operations.
In July, for example, the report showed that farmed salmon and trout exports increased nearly 56 percent through May of this year, totaling nearly 150,000 metric tons, or a whopping 330 million pounds.
"That means a lot when you consider that Alaska commercial fishermen harvested a total of 711 million pounds during all of last year -- that includes all species, even chums and pinks. Those 330 million pounds of farmed fish came from one country in five months," wrote John Van Amerongen, editor of the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal.
Most of the Chilean fish -- 97,000 tons or more than 213 million pounds -- went to Japan, with the next biggest customer being the United States. The report also pointed out that Norway produced 470,000 tons of salmon last year, or more than 1 billion pounds.
"Say what you want about antibiotics, pale flesh, lousy taste, polluted water and potential for massive die-offs, but somebody is buying these fish and eating them, especially when the supply is so huge and the price is so low," Van Amerongen said.
Needless to say, the effect on Alaska’s wild salmon industry is a continued downward press on fish prices. That has a negative effect on everyone in Alaska, because there is a direct relationship between prices paid to fishermen and revenues collected from the seafood industry.
According to the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development, every two-cent decline in the dockside price of fish represents about a $1 million loss in state and local revenues.
View from the East Coast
An informal survey of seafood lovers on Cape Cod drove home the point that farmed fish is indeed dominating East Coast dinner plates. Not a single Alaska salmon was seen on major supermarket retail counters during a recent two-week vacation during July.
Instead, customers were lined up to buy beautifully presented farmed salmon fillets, priced at $4.99 a pound.
"We sometimes have salmon from Alaska," said a fish counter clerk at Stop & Shop, although he had no idea what kind of salmon it was, nor its origin. "But the quality is inconsistent and it looks kind of sad next to the farmed fish. Plus, most of our customers want fillets," he added.
I posed a few questions to 10 individual seafood buyers, and here’s a sample of their answers:
"When you think of Alaska seafood, what comes to mind?" Without hesitation, eight of the people responded "king crab," one said "scallops" and the other said "salmon."
"If you’re buying salmon, do you care if it’s farmed or wild fish?" All said it doesn’t matter, and nine out of 10 said they wouldn’t know the difference.
"Do you ever see Alaska salmon labeled as such in your local supermarkets?" The answer was a unanimous "No."