Some of season's Copper River reds, kings fetch higher-than-negotiated price

The season’s first reds and kings from Copper River returned higher prices to fishermen and saw buyers throughout the Northwest scrambling to be the first to feature the prized fish at their restaurants and retail counters.

Red salmon fillets were reportedly flying out of Seattle stores at $12.99 a pound, while kings were bringing an unbelievable $19.99 a pound.

Meanwhile, Copper River fishermen received $2.25 a pound for their red salmon and $3.25 for kings, which is up a dime from last year’s starting price. Those were the season’s minimum prices that the United Salmon Association and the Copper River Salmon Producers Association negotiated with two small Cordova buyers Copper River Seafoods and Prime Select Seafoods.

CRSPA board member Bob Martinson said larger buyers had not agreed to those minimums; however, they were paying $2.75 for reds and $4.50 during the first opener on May 17 "because they wanted to get some of the early fish."

"We’re hoping the majors will realize how cohesive our fleet (of 500 boats) is, and negotiate in good faith with us," he said.

Looking ahead, he added that USA and CRSPA are also negotiating the state’s "first ever" chum contract, which would pay fishermen 38 cents a pound with extra one-cent bonuses depending on chum roe content.

The mid-May harvest of salmon at Copper River makes a huge contribution to the local and state economy. Last year, there was concern that a push by urban, newly defined "subsistence" users, mostly from elsewhere in the state, would result in a delay of the first fishery until June 1 to allow more reds and kings up the river.

A study done by University of Alaska/Sea Grant economists for the city of Cordova showed that delaying the early season fishery would result in a loss in volume of 79 percent of the commercial harvest for kings, or 34,143 fish, and 39 percent for reds, or 504,904 fish. Further, harvesters would lose 85 percent of the value of the kings, or $3.7 million, and 55 percent of the value for reds, or $9.8 million.

In all, loss to fishermen, tender men, processing companies and workers, and freight and support services was pegged at more than $13.5 million. This "first tier" profile did not include losses to other local businesses and services.

The state Board of Fisheries last December ruled against delaying the start of the Copper River fishery, and upriver "subsistence" users have vowed to fight the decision in court. In testimony before the board, one longtime local decried the expanding number of urban dwellers who descend upon upriver regions like Chitina in new SUV’s hauling trailers laden with four wheelers. "True subsistence users don’t require guides," he said.

White House salmon

As the worldwide controversy surrounding genetically modified fish and other foods continues, the White House is reportedly planning to serve genetically modified salmon at official functions. The Web site AlterNet reports that the move is intended to head off criticism by environmental and consumer groups that the altered foods are unsafe.

"You really can’t tell the difference. It may be genetically altered, but it tastes just the same," White House chef Daniel Arreido told AlterNet, adding that the first family already consumes milk containing bovine growth hormone.

The White House reportedly plans to debut pan-seared genetically altered super salmon and Texas-style corn pudding at a state dinner next month for French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

AlterNet quoted Naomi Jurgen-Stoors, a spokeswoman for the activist group Healthy Planet, which supports mandatory labeling on all products containing genetically modified ingredients, as saying: "Our main problem with GM food, what we call ’franken food,’ is that its long-term impact on humans has never been tested. Now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to the first family."

The idea to serve GM foods is credited to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Retirees wanted

A bill allowing retired state Department of Fish and Game staff to return to full-time work is awaiting the governor’s signature. Sponsored by Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, House Bill 242 was prompted by a steady loss of workers to federal and other agencies. The bill would allow retired employees to come back to work while keeping their current retirement benefits.

According to Commercial Fisheries Director Doug Mecum, the department is experiencing a serious shortage of experienced fishery scientists and technicians, due in part to regular and early retirement. Mecum said repeated state budget cuts and the lure of better paying federal jobs have cost the division more than 20 employees in the past two years.

Eighty percent of those workers have signed on with the Federal Subsistence Board or other National Marine Fisheries Service jobs, particularly those related to Steller sea lion studies. Mecum said some of the jobs pay nearly three times what state jobs pay.

Sea lion survey

Preliminary survey results indicate economic losses attributed to Steller sea lion conservation measures top $46 million for the Aleutian Island pollock and mackerel fisheries, and more than $17 million for the Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery during the past two years. These losses include wages, fish purchases from catcher vessels and tax revenues.

Data from the National Marine Fisheries Service suggests that about 200 harvesting vessels, 20 shore-based processors and 35 at-sea processors may have been directly affected. As a result, Congress provided $30 million in disaster relief funds to help mitigate economic losses incurred among coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Island areas.

In an effort to quantify the economic losses, the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference retained Northern Economics, an economic consulting group based in Anchorage. Marcus Hartley presented the early findings at SWAMC’s spring conference in Unalaska in mid-May.

Updated: 
11/12/2016 - 5:54pm

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