State will soon learn just how well the salmon industry fared in '06

Industry watchers will soon have a more complete picture of how Alaska salmon is playing out in world markets. The state Department of Revenue is expected to release its annual “score card” for the 2006 salmon fishery any day.

The Alaska Salmon Price Report will provide first wholesale prices and sales volumes for key salmon products: canned salmon, fresh and frozen/headed and gutted, fresh and frozen fillets, and salmon roe.

The annual production report will tell exactly how much salmon was processed by Alaska seafood companies last year.

“It allows us to pin down what we produced and what was the real growth in products like fillets, which are of great interest to many people,” said analyst Chris McDowell of the Juneau-based McDowell Group, which tracks and translates the salmon data in reports to the industry.

Looking at some 2006 salmon highlights: Alaska chum salmon continued to show substantial price recovery at the docks, from 19 cents per pound three years ago to 31 cents a pound. The 20-year average is 32 cents.

“The dockside value was about $56 million, and 18 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value was chums,” McDowell said. A record chum catch of 24.7 million fish is projected for Alaska this year.

Coho salmon was a sleeper that really woke up last year. The statewide average price was nearly $1 per pound, not including bonuses. In Southeast Alaska, troll-caught cohos fetched a record $2.85 a pound.

Fewer Alaska pink salmon are ending up in cans, going instead into pricier frozen fillets. Ten years ago, 80 percent of the pink catch would be canned; now it’s closer to a 50/50 split for canned and frozen pinks.

Pink salmon are not expected to pull another no-show in 2007, as they did in major Alaska regions last year, notably Southeast. Pink salmon have a two-year life span and return in odd/even year cycles of run strength.

“The parent year for the 2007 pink return was 2005, which was the largest pink salmon harvest on record, at 161 million fish,” McDowell said.

For the past 20 years, on odd-numbered years, the pink salmon catch has been 23 percent over projections. If that holds true, the Alaska catch could top 130 million pinks in 2007, McDowell said.

Another big harvest could be a mixed blessing for Alaska’s money fish — sockeye salmon.

“Half to two-thirds of the total dockside value is from sockeye, and we haven’t seen a whole lot of movement in the past year or two,” McDowell said.

Last year, 70 percent of Alaska’s sockeye catch of roughly 40 million came from Bristol Bay, where prices remained in the $.55 per pound range. The sockeye were smaller than usual, making them less suitable for fillet production. That meant the bulk of the bay’s red salmon went into cans in an already crowded market.

“It appears we’re entering into a time of oversupply for the canned sockeye market. And with high production coming from Bristol Bay, we’re looking at a pretty significant canned pack again,” McDowell said.

Alaska king salmon prices continue to reflect the lack of availability of fish from Pacific coast fisheries, closed for conservation concerns. The average dock price last year was almost $2.80 per pound, the highest price in 25 years. Southeast trollers fetched $9.20 per pound for winter kings two weeks ago.

“In terms of the price for king salmon, this is ’the good old days’ right now,” McDowell said.

State fish forecasters are predicting an Alaska salmon catch of 179 million fish this year, up 21.2 percent from the 2006 harvest of 141 million salmon

It soon will be easier to make sure those fish you are buying are the real thing. Fish frauds are at an all time high, and suppliers are too often substituting fakes for higher-value species — farmed salmon for wild, for example, or tilapia or catfish for grouper.

A project underway at Ontario’s Guelph University may soon allow people to test their own fish, even while sitting at a restaurant. Called the Barcode of Life, the project aims to a build a genetic sequence database for every known plant and animal species on Earth.

Researchers have developed a wireless, handheld device that can analyze a sliver of fish and identify it within minutes. They predict it will be widely used in five to 10 years. The device can also be used to target invasive species at ports.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) wants to hear from the public on what research strategies and priorities it should adopt for the next five years. By law, NMFS must update its strategic plan for fisheries research every three years.

Scientists are awaiting the hatch of the first batch of baby king crabs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Marine Center in Seward.

“It’s really exciting. It’s the first time that we have ventured into culturing king crab,” said Brian Allee, director of Alaska Sea Grant and manager of the crab research program. Researchers believe the hatchery program marks the first step in rebuilding wild king crab stocks in Alaska waters.

The arrivals will be newborn red and blue king crab larvae, each only about the size of a finely sharpened pencil tip. In all, more than 1 million king crabs are expected to hatch at the facility in coming weeks. Their mothers, 58 in all, were collected from waters around Kodiak and the Pribilof Islands.

The first batch of crab will not be released into the wild, but will serve as test subjects for future generations. It will take several years, but the goal is to eventually release the crabs to their home waters.

“Then they would contribute to the common-property fishery. First and foremost, the crab will contribute to brood stock that will provide the seed for the future,” Allee said.

The Alaska King Crab Research and Rehabilitation Program will be a feature at ComFish in Kodiak in March and at an open house March 24 at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery in Seward.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and Web sites. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 25 stations around the state. Welch, who lives in Kodiak, can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Updated: 
12/03/2016 - 11:34pm

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