Fish Radio
Bristol Bay dry boats put chill on AK salmon prices
December 6, 2016

Dry boat at Bristol Bay Credit: onearth.org

Dry boat at Bristol Bay
Credit: onearth.org

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Boosting quality at Bristol Bay benefits all Alaska salmon fishermen. More after this –

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Alaska salmon continues to enjoy strong demand at home and abroad, and that trend is expected to continue, especially for sockeyes.

“We’ve had two very large harvests backed up year after year and we’ve seen wholesale prices climbing through that. So I think that’s really kind of the proof how robust the market is.”

Andy Wink is Senior Seafood Analyst at the Juneau-based McDowell Group.  It’s good news for the Bristol Bay fishery.  So what’s the big deal if you fish or live elsewhere?

 “The sockeye resource at Bristol bay is very unique because of its size. Typically, it’s 35-40 percent of the global sockeye supply, and it is a huge chunk of Alaska’s salmon value overall. I think in 2016 preliminary data show about 38 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value came out of  Bristol Bay, and even more if you add in the Alaska peninsula area.”  

The size of the Bay harvest has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere.

“Certainly in 2015 when the base price was 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest we saw coho prices come way down and sockeye in other areas was down quite a bit too.  It’s a market moving fishery is the best way to explain it and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen even if they don’t fish in the Bay.”

That’s where a problem arises. About 44 percent of Bristol Bay’s more than 15-hundred active drift netters don’t chill their fish. Wink says at least 354 more boats are needed to reach optimal value percentages.

“And that has big ramifications for the overall value of the resource – how much of that kind of value is being left on the table by not chilling the fish.”

Major processors have put the fleet on notice that they won’t buy from dry boats starting in 2018.

That’s because of a big shift in products:   the bulk of the Bay sockeye is being flown out fresh or frozen, either headed or gutted or as fillets, and not going  into lower value cans.  Two decades ago, up to 75 percent of the Bay’s sockeye catch was canned; today, it’s closer to 25 percent.

“So ideally, for the whole Bristol Bay industry what you’d like to do is supply enough chilled fish for the H&G and fillet product line and have the unchilled fish go into cans.”

Lower sockeye prices at retail over the past two years have stimulated demand, especially in the US. Wink says Bristol Bay fishermen will benefit most from those growth markets.

 “I think the growth in this fishery in this market is really coming out of fillets and H&G – and particularly in the domestic area. But in order to capitalize on that, the fishery and the processors really need to deliver a quality product.”

Find the latest sockeye salmon market report at the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association’s web site and find links at www.alaskafishradio.com

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. (www.oceanbeauty.com) In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.   

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