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Alaska Fish Factor: Pink Salmon Fishery to be Worst in 20 Years

22 August 2016
 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. www.alaskafishradio.com

msfish@alaskan.com
 
 

US - Alaska’s 2016 pink salmon fishery is set to rank as the worst in 20 years by a long shot, and the outlook is bleak for all other salmon catches except sockeyes.

“Boy, sockeye is really going to have to carry the load in terms of the fishery’s value because there’s a lot of misses elsewhere,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group.

The historical peaks of the various salmon runs have already passed and the pink salmon catch so far has yet to break 35 million on a forecast of 90 million. That compares to a harvest of 190 million pinks last year.

Weekly tracking through August 15 shows the pace of the Chinook salmon harvest (341,000) is down 42 percent versus last year in net fisheries, cohos (under 2 million) are down 20 percent, and the chum catch (12 million) is down 25 percent.

“As far as chums go, we’re probably looking at the second worst harvest in the past 10 years,” Wink said.

Severely reduced supplies of farmed salmon from Chile to the U.S. really put the onus on fresh fish this year, and Alaska processors ‘game planned’ for getting as much salmon into that market as possible.

According to commodities tracker Urner Barry, the fresh farmed salmon price index (based on combined average values) is up 33 percent across the U.S., going from $3.79 in January to $5.03 in mid-August. And a rising tide floats all boats.

“Yes, that kind of tide is really helpful and it makes our wild product that much more attractive,” he said. Conversely, when farmed prices are really low, it’s a much tougher sell.”

Both fresh and frozen sockeyes have been moving well – good news for a fishery that unexpectedly has topped 52 million. Not so for Alaska’s competitors - the sockeye fishery at British Columbia’s Fraser River was a complete bust, and Russia’s sockeye fisheries also were down considerably.

A big plus this year is that some currency rates are more favorable for buying Alaska.

“Another major thing is the 20 percent shift in the yen in our favor,” Wink explained. “The Euro hasn’t done much and neither has the Canadian dollar, but Japan is a big trading partner and the fact that their purchasing power has increased that much should be helpful.”

In terms of Alaska’s total salmon fishery value, any price gains from reds will likely be offset by the blowout with pinks. Less supply also should add some upward pressure to the disappointing 20-cents per pound paid to fishermen, Wink said, and pink roe markets could benefit from the stronger yen.

Market watchers now will be tracking how Alaska salmon in its various forms moves through the global market.

“We’ll definitely be looking at through-put and watching prices,” Wink said. “It’s another big sockeye harvest, so we need to get sales pushed through the market so it doesn’t back up in the spring. Hopefully, we’ll also see canned prices stabilize and those sales volumes come up.”

Alaska’s 2016 salmon forecast called for a harvest of 161 million fish. Through August 19, the salmon catch had topped 101 million salmon.

Seafood recipe sweeps - A seafood recipe sweepstakes is underway as a way to entice more Americans to eat more of it.

“The purpose is to help Americans understand how easy it is to incorporate seafood into their diets at least twice a week, following the regulatory guidelines for Americans,” said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership (SNP).

Only one in 10 Americans follows the twice a week dietary guidelines and U.S. per capita consumption has stalled at about 15 pounds a year. That compares to a global annual seafood eating average of 44 pounds per person.

More people do recognize the health benefits of eating seafood, Cornish said, but it can be a complicated food category for many.

“You’re not just talking about one animal like beef, chicken or pork,” she said. “You’re talking about 1,800 species of seafood that are commercially available.”

The SNP operates outreach programs so far in eight U.S. cities, and also partners with hospitals and health professions to promote its Healthy Heart Pledge program.

“Over 8,000 people have taken the pledge and as we track sales, we can see upticks in sales of frozen and shelf stable seafood in cities we’re working in, which is ahead of national sales trends,” Cornish said.

Salmon especially has a ‘healthy halo’ associated with it, and she said the term ‘omega 3’s’ is now a common theme among consumers.

“Two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and most of that is caused by inflammation in our bodies caused by what we eat. Omega 3’s have anti-inflammatory properties,” Cornish said.

The SNP is using social media to drive home the message that seafood is easy to buy and prepare.
Entrants are asked to take photos of seafood dishes prepared with five ingredients or less and post them to Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #HealthyHeartPledge and #SNPSweepstakes.

Ten winners each will receive $250 gift cards. Enter the seafood recipe sweepstakes through October 21 at www.SNPSweepstakes.com

Fish Board beat – The state Board of Fisheries will take up 276 proposals during its upcoming meeting cycle that begins this winter. The board sets regulations and policy for commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries within three miles of shore. The focus for the 2016/17 meetings is Upper and Lower Cook Inlet, Kodiak and state king and Tanner crab fisheries, except for Southeast and Yakutat.

The meeting dates are: Lower Cook Inlet - November 30-December 3 in Homer; Kodiak - January 10-13 in Kodiak, Upper Cook Inlet – February 23-March 8 in Anchorage; Crab and supplemental issues – March 20-24 in Anchorage.

Fishing photos – The call is out for photos for the 2017 Fishermen’s News calendar. Winners take home $150 cash, 25 calendars to share over the holidays and a year's subscription to the magazine that been a voice of commercial fishing since 1945. Send digital photo entries to bill@philipsublishing.com. Deadline is August 26.

This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaskan.com

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