Between 60 percent and 70 percent of Alaska's seafood is exported to customers around the globe, and the strength of foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar plays a big role in annual sales. Tracking by the Juneau-based McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute shows mid-year ups and downs for Alaska's biggest seafood buyers.
On the downside: The Japanese yen has taken a 20 percent drop versus the dollar this year -- not good for Alaska seafood exporters. Japan is a leading buyer of salmon roe, pollock roe, surimi, sablefish (black cod), and crab. Likewise, the British pound has weakened by roughly 6 percent since the beginning of the year; the United Kingdom is Alaska's biggest buyer of canned sockeye salmon.
On the upside: Europe is Alaska's largest export market for frozen pollock, cod, salmon and surimi. The euro, the currency used by 23 countries and principalities, is trading at about the same value versus the dollar as this time last year. Last summer the euro was really weak, so this year could be better for exporters selling to the eurozone.
Exchange rates between the Chilean peso and the U.S. dollar affect trade prices for farmed salmon in the United States, which in turn affects demand for wild Alaska salmon -- especially fresh and frozen pinks and chums. The peso is currently very strong versus the dollar -- that's good for Alaska, the report says, because it makes the price of imported Chilean salmon more expensive from an American point of view.
Supply and demand also plays strongly into the import/export equations. For wild salmon, total harvests from major producers -- Alaska, Russia, Japan, the Pacific Northwest -- are likely to increase 8 percent to 20 percent over last year, meaning a supply between 2.16 billion and 2.38 billion pounds, similar to 2011.
Alaska's salmon harvest forecast this year is for 179 million fish, or roughly 820 million pounds. The Russian prediction calls for a catch of at least 727 million pounds, but the actual volume will likely be much higher, possibly topping 1 billion pounds. Odd-numbered years usually have produced larger pink salmon harvests in both Alaska and Russia.
Japan is a major chum salmon producer (mostly from hatcheries), accounting for more than three-quarters of Japan's total salmon harvest. The country typically produces 450 million pounds of chum salmon or more each year, but poundage has declined in recent years, especially following the March 2011 tsunami. Increasing chum salmon production is expected to take several years due to the damage sustained by hatcheries from that horrific event.
Salmon roe might not be an American favorite, but it's a highly valued delicacy elsewhere. The main sources of salmon roe are pink, chum and sockeye, in that order. This year roe production is projected to total 27 million pounds, a big increase from the five-year average of 23 million pounds.
Pink salmon usually provide more than half of Alaska's total salmon roe haul, and this summer nearly 15 million pounds of pink roe is projected, 54 percent of the total. Chum salmon are the second largest source of roe, producing a quarter of the Alaska pack. Chum roe is the highest-valued, and about 7.5 million pounds should come out of the 2013 catch. For sockeye, the 34 million fish projection should yield a modest 4.7 million pounds of roe.
Salmon roe follows different market trends than other Alaska salmon products. According to fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp, that's because roe wholesales into different end markets, and it faces very little competition from farmed salmon.
Looking at sales trends: All Alaska salmon roe prices surged from September through December last year. For pink roe, more than 5.5 million pounds fetched nearly $12 per pound, compared to less than $8 on average for all of 2011. For chums, more than 3.2 million pounds was sold at $18.76 a pound, an increase of $5 a pound from the previous year. For sockeye, 1.6 million pounds was valued at $8.97, up more than $2.
In all, Alaska salmon roe had a first wholesale value of nearly $200 million in 2011; the sales totals for 2012 will be released by the state Department of Revenue in early July.
Take it from the freezer, put it in the oven and in a half hour you will have a cod dinner for four, complete with your choice of Thai Curry, Tuscan and Chipotle Lime, Garlic Pesto, Teriyaki Ginger, Southwest Mesquite, Asian Stir Fry and Morney White Sauce. The new product was recently launched by Alaskan Leader Seafoods from its fleet of hook-and-line catcher-processors.
"We are very proud of this. It's a big deal for an Alaska company," said Keith Singleton, vice president of marketing for ALS. "We are partnered up and rolling it out with DuPont Corp. and Multi-Vac. We are the first U.S. company they have chosen to put seafood into one of their packaging pouches."
"Blazing your packaging with Made in Alaska or Product of the USA is a big deal right now. It's definitely on the forefront of people's thoughts when they are shopping, as well as sustainability," he added. "Our success is the fishermen's success. If we do well, we can get the prices up and it will help the fishermen at the dock."
BUCKS FOR COLLEGE
The International Pacific Halibut Commission funds several merit scholarships to support university, technical college and other postsecondary education. The scholarships are for $2,000 per year, subject to maintaining satisfactory academic performance. A committee will review applications and determine recipients based on academic qualifications, career goals and relationship to the halibut industry. Questions? Contact Eva Luna at 206-634-1838, ext. 7661, or Bruce Leaman, ext. 7672. Download applications from the IPHC website. Deadline is June 28.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Contact her at email@example.com.