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Alaska Fish Factor: Salmon Prices Hit Rock Bottom

26 October 2015
 Alaska Fish Factor: Laine Welch Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. She also has worked ‘behind the counter’ in wholesale and retail seafood businesses in Alaska and Cape Cod, MA. Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska.

US - Alaska’s 2015 salmon season produced the second largest harvest ever, but rock bottom prices yielded the lowest pay out to fishermen since 2006. That will cut into the tax base of coastal communities and state coffers, which collect fully half of all fish landing taxes.

Preliminary tallies from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game show that the statewide salmon catch topped 263 million fish (the record is 273 million in 2013) with an exvessel (dockside) value at $414 million, a 28 percent decrease from last year.

The salmon dollar values don’t include post-season bonuses or price adjustments after sales are made. Using exvessel figures also chronically undervalues the Alaska salmon fishery, because what is paid at the docks represents only 40 percent of the fishery’s value.

“The first wholesale prices are a better indicator,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group. “That is typically defined as the value of the product when it leaves Alaska.”

Taking honors for the most valuable salmon fishing region – and one of only three regions to show increases - was Prince William Sound. The total catch was valued at $118 million, compared to $104 million last season. A record pink salmon haul of more than 98 million pushed PWS to the top spot.
Bristol Bay ranked second in terms of salmon fishery value at nearly $95 million –due to 50-cent reds, that’s down from $196 million.

Southeast Alaska also experienced a huge salmon value decrease to just over $89 million, compared to $147 million a year ago.

Kodiak came in fourth for its salmon fishery valued at $37 million, a drop from $46 million last season.

Fishermen at Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula both hauled in $30 million worth of salmon this summer. For the Inlet, that was a drop of $7 million; conversely, it was nearly a $3 million increase at the Peninsula. The only other Alaska region to see a boost in salmon values was Norton Sound at $1.9 million, up just slightly from last year.

The value of the Kuskokwim region’s salmon fishery was just $870,000, compared to $2.2 million; it was $2.7 million at the Yukon, down slightly, and $826,000 at Kotzebue, a drop from nearly $3 million last season.

Below are the average 2015 Alaska dock prices per salmon species, with comparisons to last year’s prices in parentheses - Chinook: $3.01 ($4.07) Sockeye: $.71 ($1.37) Coho: $.65 ($1.15) Pink: $.20 ($.30) Chum: $.48 ($.60)

Flushing hurts fish - In the popular movie “Saving Nemo,” the captive little fish was flushed down a drain to the sea and freedom. Lost in the story is the fact that the US health industry each year flushes thousands of tons of unused pharmaceuticals down sink drains and toilets. Now, the federal government is getting ready to turn off the spigot.

An ongoing investigative report by the Associated Press called “Health care industry sends tons of drugs into nation's wastewater system,” revealed that few of the nation’s hospitals or long term care homes keep data on the drugs they dump. Some are incinerated, some goes to landfills, but most are flushed, without violating any regulations.

One thing is clear: traces of the medicines persist through wastewater treatment systems and are discharged into surface or ground waters.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the annual amount of waste pharmaceuticals flushed down sinks and toilets at over 6,400 tons. Last year the EPA added pharmaceuticals to its list of “major pollutants of concern” and is now proposing to ban the flushing practice altogether.

Pharmaceuticals and another closely related culprit -- Personal Care Products -- began raising red flags in the mid-2000s when chemical traces were increasingly found in surface waters and sediments. In a first ever nationwide assessment of 524 urban rivers done in 2008-2009, the EPA found seven pharmaceuticals in fish tissue samples, mostly antihistamines and antidepressants.

Alaska has begun doing some fresh water testing in its Fish Monitoring Program with little data so far, said state veterinarian Bob Gerlach, and no marine sampling has been done.

“We have a small program with just two people so we rely on partners in the field to collect most of our samples,” he added.

The public has until December 18th to comment on the EPA’s plans to ban flushing of pharmaceuticals down toilets and drains. 

Fish watch: The U.S. Senate last week unanimously passed the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015. The measure includes the international Port State Measures Act, which will bar suspected pirate fishing vessels and cargo ships from entering ports and offloading their illegal catches. The bill now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Also in Congress: Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) introduced legislation to change the market name of “Alaska pollock” to “pollock.” Under current FDA labeling standards, pollock caught in any part of the world can be labeled as “Alaska pollock.”

“There’s no reason why foreign caught pollock should be disguised as Alaskan, especially given the significant management efforts we’ve taken in the North Pacific to create the most sustainable fishery in the world,” said Congressman Young.

Scott Kelley of Juneau has been named as the new Director of the Commercial Fisheries Division, replacing Jeff Regnart who resigned earlier this month. Kelley is a 25 year ADF&G veteran, most recently as coordinator for shellfish and groundfish fisheries in Southeast Alaska.

Alexa Tonkovich has been named executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Tonkovich has been with ASMI since 2009, most recently as International Program Director. Prior to that she was ASMI’s Asia and emerging markets manager.

United Fishermen of Alaska is seeking a new executive director to replace Julianne Curry who is stepping down. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group, representing 35 member groups.

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