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Bristol Bay fishermen poised to pass on pinks

Dave BendingerBristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman

The boat yards in Bristol Bay are filling up quickly as much of the fleet heads off to wintering grounds in the Lower 48.

The price for pinks, posted at about 28 cents per pound, seems too low to generate much of a post-sockeye fishing effort by many.

“I’ve got the gear on the boat and I’m ready to go,” said Fritz Johnson, who fishes the F/V Jazz out of Dillingham but hadn’t fished since the sockeye run slowed over the weekend. “I haven’t made up my mind yet about pinks, but I’ll tell you, if it was a buck a pound, you bet I’d be out there.”

Another Nushagak drifter returned Monday with 3,300 pounds of humpies, but wasn’t too encouraged by the profit margin from that decent harvest.

Greg Marxmiller, a Nushagak setnetter, said he was intending to fish humpies later in the week, and hopefully transition to the more profitable silvers when they show up in numbers, and if there’s a market.

Pinks arrive in numbers on the even years, and entice a few area processors to stay open for an extended season. That can mean more market for silvers, too, which often do fetch close to a dollar per pound.

Prices for pinks are down because of too much inventory, mostly canned, that has yet to be consumed on the world market.

Some of that product has been sitting around for years. But there are indications that the situation may be improving.

Veteran Alaska fisheries reporter Laine Welch said a key component helping boost the market is the increase of pink salmon processed as frozen, headed and gutted, instead of canned. “In 2003, for example, 72 percent of Alaska’s pink salmon was canned, compared to just 49 percent two years ago,” said Welch. Some say Silver Bay’s entry into the Southeast fisheries several years ago helped spur the market turnaround.

Welch also says there are efforts to improve the marketing of pink salmon.

Ocean Beauty is experimenting with smaller cans to appeal to more customers.

And the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute says Welch, is “earmarking $1.5 million to promote pinks at home and abroad, and is especially targeting high endurance athletes.”

Canned pink salmon is also a popular staple item for federal food programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture purchased some $20 million worth of canned pinks for such purposes.

So far this year, Prince William Sound humpy catches are above average at around 22 million, according to Welch.

Other fisheries in Southeast and in Kodiak are currently below average, and Bristol Bay’s effort may be puny this year.

But Welch sees a silver lining if this year’s catches end low. “While it’s not so great for fishermen, having less pink salmon crossing the docks this year will relieve some pressure on a market that still has a lot of fish.”