Bumper haul of humpies adds to salmon price woes

Alaska’s pink salmon catch is pushing 180 million fish, making it the second largest harvest ever (219 million pinks was the previous record set in 2013).

The humpie haul has been pushed by record production in three regions — more than 15 million pinks were taken at the Alaska Peninsula, compared to less than 1 million last year. Kodiak’s record pink catch was nearing 30 million, triple last year’s take; and Prince William Sound’s harvest so far had topped a whopping 97 million pink salmon. 

All that fish goes into a competitive global market and in a word, the pink market stinks. There is still a glut of pink salmon products stemming from Alaska’s record 2013 catch, and devalued currencies are bedeviling sales with overseas customers.

“We’ve had some big years backed up and that ripples through the supply chain and affects prices, and it doesn’t help that the currency markets have gone against us so badly during this time when our supply has goes up so dramatically,” said Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst with the McDowell Group.

Exports typically account for 60 to 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood sales. Last week the euro was worth $1.14, down from $1.32 at the same time last year. And the Japanese yen was at 84 to the dollar, down from 96 to the dollar.

“It gives you a sense of the dramatic shifts we’re seeing in the currency markets, and it has thrown such a change into the different supply relationships and the normal price ranges. It’s been very difficult,” he added.

Another huge market hit comes from the ongoing U.S. seafood embargo by Russia — one of the biggest buyers of pink salmon roe. The roe usually accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the value of the entire pink pack, sometimes more.

“Other than Japan, Russia is our largest market for salmon roe,” said Alexa Tonkovich, International Program Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Japan takes about $125 million worth of salmon roe and Russian takes about $46 million. The next closest market is China at $20 million. And if you don’t have diversified markets for a product you’re in a less powerful negotiating position.”

“There is just not another market like Russia or Eastern Europe waiting out there with a strong currency to buy our pink roe,” echoed Wink. “It’s easy to see how it could drag down total first wholesale value by a quarter or a third compared to averages of years past.”

Season totals for frozen and canned pinks have yet to be tallied. Cases of cans are still piled up from two years ago, keeping a downward press on prices. Alaska fishermen are getting paid on average 17 cents per pound for pinks, compared to a statewide average of 30 cents last summer.

Sockeyes in the red

“A perfect storm” of rough conditions is how market watchers are summing up sales of sockeye salmon.

First wholesale prices for Alaska’s big money fish are down 20 to 25 percent on average across all markets, according to Undercurrent News.

Sluggish sales stem from a huge supply, the overall average weight of the fish is puny making them harder to sell, and as with pinks, the biggest pile driver is global currencies.

Fully half of the Bristol Bay sockeye taken this summer weighed in at just more than five pounds. Larger reds bigger than six pounds, most in demand because they yield higher profit margins, made up just 4 to 5 percent of the Bay harvest. The larger fish are wholesaling at $4.50 to $4.75 a pound, down 16 percent from last year, Undercurrent reported.

Mid-sized four- to six-pounders are selling at $3 per pound, down 15.5 percent from the $3.50 to $3.60 paid last year. First wholesale prices for the smallest sockeyes bottomed out at $2.25 per pound.

Fishermen at Bristol Bay received a base price of 50 cents per pound for their sockeye salmon this summer, slightly higher elsewhere. The statewide average price for sockeye salmon last year was. $1.37 per pound.

Another market upset for all Alaska salmon prices is coming from that constant competitor: farmed fish.

“Through the first half of 2015, fresh farmed Atlantic salmon imports — including fillets and whole fish — reached a year-to-date high by a large margin, driven by heavy imports in June,” said analyst John Sackton of Seafood.com. “With official data available now, note that the U.S. imported record monthly volumes of fresh Atlantic salmon for both fillets and whole fish.”

Seafood pros

Alaska’s seafood industry depends on recruiting and maintaining processing professionals and Sea Grant helps build that specialized workforce.

Each year its Marine Advisory Program sponsors the Alaska Seafood Processing Leadership Institute, or ASPLI, which provides an intense 80 hours of technical training, and the management and leadership skills needed to understand and succeed in the industry.

The program is designed for mid-level managers in a seafood plant, such as assistant plant managers, production managers, quality control supervisors, engineers, human resource managers and administrators who are recognized by their employer as having leadership potential. Direct marketers and small seafood processors also are eligible to apply.

The course begins with technical training in Kodiak from Nov. 9 to 13, followed by leadership training in Anchorage, Feb. 29 to March 4, and a trip to Seafood Expo North America in Boston, March 6 to 8.

More than 50 Alaska processing professionals from 21 seafood companies have attended ASPLI over the past five years. The deadline to register is Sept. 30.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

11/24/2016 - 9:29am