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Export fish to Japan, not Europe

Laine Welch

KODIAK -- Whether it's fish or timber, oil or minerals, people around the world are aggressively selling into the same markets as Alaska. And for seafood, world currencies -- which play a big role in sales -- are topsy-turvy from one year ago.

"The recent changes in currencies have been bad news if you are exporting to Europe, and good news if you're exporting to Japan," said Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

"The whole world economy is so interconnected, and the major uncertainty across all of Europe is affecting the value of the euro relative to our dollar. It doesn't seem fair or rational that would affect what Alaska seafood sells for and the prices Alaska fishermen get, but it actually does work that way," Knapp said.

The value of the euro to the dollar has dropped 10 percent since November, and it now takes 1.25 euros to equal one U.S. dollar. Europe is an important export market for Alaska salmon, pollock fillets and cod.

"The decline will affect what European markets are willing or able to pay, so that could have a negative consequence for those particular fishery products," Knapp said.

It is still too soon to really know what the impacts are, said Ray Riutta, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

"Clearly, everyone is concerned as the euro goes down and our products become more expensive. It certainly will affect sales," Riutta said.

On the other hand, the currency for Alaska's biggest seafood customer -- Japan -- has gotten stronger, at 90 yen to the dollar.

"The purchasing power of the yen has been strengthening for the past year. That would tend to help products we are shipping to Japan," Knapp said, including salmon, sablefish, crab and roe products.

"There's an old adage that fish follows the money, so I suspect if Japan currency stays strong, we will see a bit of a shift from some European sales to Japan. But it's too early to speculate," Riutta added, referring to many sales for canned and frozen products that won't be finalized until year's end.

Even though the yen/dollar exchange rates are stronger, the Japanese economy is struggling, so buyers there might not want as much, Knapp cautioned. And other factors could affect seafood markets, notably, supplies from competitors.

Both seafood experts agreed that all signs point to a good salmon market this year.

"A major driving factor is, the supply of farmed salmon is way down due to ongoing disease problems in Chile," Knapp said. "That is pushing up prices for all salmon, as is continued market development by Alaska wild salmon producers. They have created good products and worked hard to get them into the U.S. market, and it's working out well."

What an Alaska fish processor can pay fishermen is limited by two basic factors: what processors can sell their products for, and what their costs are. These place a ceiling on what they will pay fishermen, Knapp explained.

He said things to watch this summer include salmon supplies from Russia, exchange rates and how they affect what processors get paid for their salmon products, and what happens with Alaska's salmon supply.

"As always," he said, "the most likely thing to expect is surprises."


Alaska's largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay was wrapping up late last week.

The 26,000-ton catch quota is split 70/30 between seiners and gillnetters. The herring, which is valued for its roe, yielded counts topping 10 percent, the industry standard. No word yet on price, but negotiations with Japanese buyers really heat up after the Togiak catch is tallied. reported that at least one major U.S. packer wants $1,000 per ton for Sitka roe herring. Alaska's total roe herring harvest projection this year is up considerably to nearly 62,000 tons, an increase of 20,000 tons from last year. The 2009 catch was valued at more than $17 million at the docks.


Captain Sig Hansen of "Deadliest Catch" fame aims to take his sea legs to another TV reality show "Dancing with the Stars." Over 15,000 signatures are on Sig's Facebook fan page trying to help him get on the hit show.

The Northwestern skipper took his pitch last week to the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," where he got a dance lesson from a professional.


Harbor Crown Seafoods in Unalaska/ Dutch Harbor is for sale. It features more than 55,000 square feet of space spread out over five buildings on seven acres, a processing plant, a boat dock, bunkhouse and a boat lift. Bob Martin at Ravenwood Real Estate in Eagle River is taking sealed bids.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her information column appears every other Sunday. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing articles on your website or in a newsletter, contact

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