“Uncertainty” and “high prices” are the terms that best sum up Alaska’s salmon season so far. There’s lots of fishing left to go, but runs to most regions are late and low. That has buyers scrambling to fill orders from eager customers, especially for scanty sockeye salmon. The demand has boosted early prices to levels not seen in two decades.
Reports from Kodiak peg the average base sockeye price to fishermen at $1.49 a pound, up from $1.11 last year. (The base price does not include bonuses for iced fish, dock deliveries, etc.) Lots of boats had departed from disappointing sockeye catches at Copper River for more plentiful reds at Prince William Sound, where gillnetters were getting $2.25 a pound. Copper River sockeye prices were holding at $2 per pound, but catches there of 300,000 reds were down by half.
Southeast Alaska gillnetters were also getting two bucks for their sockeye salmon, an increase of 75 cents a pound from last season.
The talk on the dock for the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay has fishermen hoping to get close to $1 per pound, compared to 70 cents last year. Peter Pan and its fleet agreed on a base price of 95 cents for reds. Many are skeptical that the Bristol Bay sockeye harvest this summer will reach the projected 31 million fish.
Market watcher Ken Talley said that vacuum-packed, frozen sockeye fillets from at least one major Alaska salmon processor is wholesaling for $7 per pound, compared to “the more normal” $5.50 per pound, and fresh sockeye “are now in the $9.50 per pound range.”
Alaska wild salmon is so in demand that Western Alaska fishermen also are getting a better shake with fish prices. Kuskokwim sockeyes are fetching over $1 per pound, double last year. Kusko chums are averaging 25 cents, up a dime; and 70 cents for chums from the Yukon (called keta salmon), an increase of 20 cents.
“Demand is strong for all our Yukon salmon and we’re having no trouble getting it to market,” said Jack Schultheis, manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries at Emmonak.
At Kodiak, chums were averaging 49 cents a pound, up 11 cents. Southeast Alaska gillnetters were getting 65-70 cents for their chum salmon, compared to 51 cents in 2009.
Alaska’s projected salmon catch for 2010 is 137 million fish, down 15 percent from last year. The decrease stems from an expected shortfall in pink salmon returns. The 2009 Alaska salmon harvest was valued at $370 million at the docks; two-thirds of the total value each year comes from sockeye salmon.
Halibut also high
Alaska’s halibut fishery also is still in full swing, and prices have been high and holding since the season opened in March. The strong demand for fresh halibut is being called “remarkable” in the current economy. Less fish are available overall, and buyers are scrambling for product.
Major Alaska ports are paying fishermen $5 per pound or more for halibut, depending on fish size. Lots of 10 to 20-pounders are being hauled in, while bigger fish are scarce. Prices at Homer (the nation’s top halibut port) reportedly reached $5.65 per pound for 60-ups last week.
The strong fresh market is putting the squeeze on halibut that is heading for freezers, and that also is boosting fish prices. Even plentiful 10-20s are wholesaling frozen at $5.20 per pound, up $2 from last year.
Alaska’s halibut fishery runs through mid-November and has a catch limit this year of just over 40 million pounds.
Coming soon to a store near you: Frankenfoods. After a decade of debate, last week the Food and Drug Administration officially proposed regulations that will allow genetically modified fish and animals on America’s dinner plates. Genetic engineering is already widely used in agriculture to produce higher-yielding or disease-resistant crops. But it will mark the first time that modified animals are OK’d for human consumption.
First up for approval is an Atlantic salmon created at AquaBounty in Waltham, Mass. The fish contains a growth gene from a Chinook and an ocean pout, which produces growth hormones all year round. The result is a salmon that can grow to market size in 16-18 months instead of three years. That is likely to be followed by the “enviro-pig” which produces less phosphorous pollution in its poop.
No matter how the critters are modified, you won’t know it. No labeling will be required that tells consumers that an animal has been genetically altered. The FDA may hold a public meeting to discuss the go ahead for the new “franken-fish” this fall.
Robinson Crusoe update
Fishing gear and supplies ranging from outboard motors to buoys, raincoats and radios were loaded aboard a container ship at Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle on July 9, destined for Chile.
In just four week, a diverse mix of North Pacific fishing groups, Bering Sea crabbers, trawlers and other stakeholders raised $85,000 in cash and gear to help restore the small boat lobster fishery at Robinson Crusoe Island. The fishery is the lifeblood of a community located 400 miles west of mainland Chile that was demolished by a tsunami in February.
The loading party wrote notes on a special buoy and added it to the gear. Additional donations will provide materials for winches and net sheds that the Robinson Crusoe fishermen will build for their small boat lobster fleet.
Questions? Contact Jenni Klein, 206.300-9557;email@example.com; Edward Poulsen, 206-992-3260; firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.helpjuanfernandezislands.org
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