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Laine Welch: Salmon fillet and roe prices were strong this summer

Laine Welch

In a tough market awash with farmed fish, Alaska salmon held their own this summer.

Alaska processors produced more than 13 million pounds of salmon fillets. King fillets averaged $11.45 a pound, a 70 cent increase over last year. Fresh fillets averaged $7.60 for sockeyes and $7.24 for cohos -- an increase of 66 cents for both. Only chum fillets fell at wholesale -- to $3.25 a pound, down 52 cents from last summer.

Salmon roe prices, especially for pinks and chums, showed big jumps. Pink salmon roe sold for $9.28 a pound, a 53 percent increase over last season; chum roe increased from $12.17 to $15 a pound.

Most Alaska salmon is sold as headed/gutted, either fresh or frozen. Those wholesale prices were down nearly across the board. Here's a sampler, with 2011 prices in parentheses:

Fresh sockeye -- $3.67 ($3.77); fresh pink -- $1.31 ($1.43); and fresh chum -- $1.67 ($2.10). Fresh kings averaged $7.49, an increase of 82 cents a pound; fresh cohos increased 2 cents to $3.42.

Frozen sockeye -- $2.81 ($3.17); frozen kings -- $3.16 ($4.10); frozen pinks -- $1.23 ($1.45); frozen cohos -- $2.58 ($2.66); and frozen chums -- $1.40 ($1.87).

Alaska's preliminary catch for 2012 totaled just less than 124 million fish.

King crab market clipped

Crabbers agreed to an advance price of $7.25 a pound for red king crab shortly after dropping pots in Bristol Bay last week.

"This represents approximately 90 percent of the expected final price given current market conditions. Of course, market conditions are subject to change," said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents a majority of the Bering Sea crab fleet.

Nearly 8 million pounds of red king crab will come from Bristol Bay this season, about the same as last year. Prices topped $10 a pound to fishermen after sales in 2011; the market this year has shifted quite a bit.

"After the record runup in prices last year when they were over $20 a pound (shipped to Japan or Seattle for brine/bulk crab), a lot of buyers backed away," said John Sackton, a crab market expert and editor of Seafood.com. "There also were reports prior to the season that U.S. companies still had some crab from last season that was unsold."

Japan is the price setter this year and its demand for king crab is down. Buyers have floated first wholesale prices in the $14- to $18-a-pound range, Sackton said, down about 25 percent from last season.

Another downward press on prices is coming from king crab poachers in the Russian fishery. Sackton said the numbers between catch quotas and crab deliveries simply don't add up.

"Trade figures show that in 2005-2006 the global trade in king crab was literally four to five times as much as the legal landings," Sackton said. "They have gone down but are still about twice as high. There is no question that this fishery still has a large component in the Far East that is being taken illegally."

Big fish on the Rock

More than 200 fishery scientists and professionals are gathering in Kodiak this week to teach and learn about current research in Alaska. The event covers ecosystems, fisheries and food sustainability. Other topics include seafood processing, marketing, invasive species and subsistence. The Coast Guard will provide courses on aircraft stranding and crashing, and land and raft survival.

The meetings take place at the downtown Harbor Convention Center. There is a charge for some sessions; limited scholarships are available. Contact Kodiak Marine Advisory Agent Julie Matweyou at 486-1514 and find the meeting agenda at afs-alaska.org.

Fish watch

The Bering Sea pollock fishery is wrapping up for the year with a catch approaching 2 billion pounds. Fishing was good by most accounts but the fleet had to travel far to get it -- 500 miles out near the Russian fishing border.

The state's biggest herring fishery at Togiak has gotten even bigger. Fishery managers forecast a haul of 30,056 tons in the spring sac roe fishery. That compares to a quota this year of 21,622 tons.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaska.com.


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