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Sockeyes are silver lining in an otherwise miserable year for Alaska salmon

 

Alaska's 2016 pink salmon fishery is set to rank as the worst in 20 years by a long shot, and the outlook is bleak for other salmon except sockeyes, too.

"Boy, sockeye is really going to have to carry the load in terms of the fishery's value because there's a lot of misses elsewhere," said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group.

The peaks of the various salmon runs have passed. The pink salmon catch so far has yet to break 35 million during a year when the forecast called for 90 million fish. Last year, 190 million were harvested.

Weekly tracking through Aug. 15 shows:

— The king salmon harvest (341,000) down 42 percent from last year in net fisheries (though the troll-caught catch is strong);

— Silvers (fewer than 2 million) down 20 percent;

— Chums (12 million) down 25 percent. "We're probably looking at the second-worst harvest in the past 10 years," Wink said.

It all adds up to a catch of 101 million salmon through Aug. 19, some 60 million short of the forecast.

Severely reduced imports of farmed salmon from Chile to the U.S. put the onus on fresh fish this year, and Alaska processors aimed to get as much salmon into the market as possible.

According to commodities tracker Urner Barry, the fresh-farmed salmon price index (based on combined average values) is up 33 percent across the U.S., going from $3.79 in January to $5.03 in August. And a rising tide floats all boats.

"Yes, that … is really helpful and it makes our wild product that much more attractive," he said. Conversely, when farmed prices are really low, it's a much tougher sell."

Fresh and frozen reds have been moving well — good news for an Alaska fishery that unexpectedly topped 52 million.

Alaska's competitors didn't fare so well — the sockeye fishery in British Columbia's Fraser River was a bust, and Russia's fisheries were down considerably, too.

A big plus this year is that some currency rates are more favorable for buying Alaska fish.

"Another major thing is the 20 percent shift in the yen in our favor," Wink explained. "The euro hasn't done much and neither has the Canadian dollar, but Japan is a big trading partner and the fact that their purchasing power has increased that much should be helpful."

Any price gains from reds may likely be offset by the pink shortfall. However, less supply should add some upward pressure to the disappointing 20-cents-per-pound paid to fishermen, Wink said, and pink roe markets could benefit from the stronger yen.

Market-watchers will track how Alaska salmon in its various forms moves through the global market.

"We'll definitely be … watching prices," Wink said. "It's another big sockeye harvest, so we need to get sales pushed through the market so it doesn't back up in the spring. Hopefully, we'll also see canned prices stabilize and those sales volumes come up."

Seafood recipe sweepstakes

A seafood recipe sweepstakes aimed at enticing Americans to eat more fish is underway.

"The purpose is to help Americans understand how easy it is to incorporate seafood into their diets at least twice a week," said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership.

Only one in 10 Americans follows the twice-a-week dietary guideline and U.S. per capita consumption has stalled at about 15 pounds a year. That compares to a global average of 44 pounds per person.

More and more people recognize the health benefits of eating seafood, Cornish said, but it can be a complicated food category for Americans.

"You're not just talking about one animal like beef, chicken or pork," she said. "You're talking about 1,800 species of seafood that are commercially available."

The partnership operates outreach programs in eight U.S. cities, and also partners with hospitals and health professionals to promote its Healthy Heart Pledge program.

"Over 8,000 people have taken the pledge and … we can see upticks in sales of frozen and shelf-stable seafood in cities we're working in, which is ahead of national sales trends," Cornish said.

Salmon especially has what's called a "healthy halo" associated with it, and she said the term "omega-3" is now commonly used by consumers.

"Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and most of that is caused by inflammation in our bodies caused by what we eat. Omega-3's have anti-inflammatory properties," Cornish said.

Sweepstake entrants are asked to take photos of seafood dishes prepared with five ingredients or less and post them to Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #HealthyHeartPledge and #SNPSweepstakes.

Ten winners will receive $250 gift cards. Enter through Oct. 21 at SNPSweepstakes.com

Fish board schedule

The state Board of Fisheries will take up 276 proposals during its upcoming meeting cycle beginning this winter. The board sets regulations and policy for commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries within 3 miles of shore. The focus for the 2016-17 meetings is Upper and Lower Cook Inlet, Kodiak and state king and Tanner crab fisheries, except for Southeast and Yakutat. The dates:

* Lower Cook Inlet: Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in Homer;

* Kodiak: Jan. 10-13 in Kodiak;

* Upper Cook Inlet: Feb. 23-March 8 in Anchorage;

* Crab and supplemental issues: March 20-24 in Anchorage.

Fishy photos

The call is out for photos for the 2017 Fishermen's News calendar. Winners take home $150, 25 calendars to share over the holidays and a year's subscription to the magazine that been a voice of commercial fishing since 1945. Send digital photo entries to bill@philipsublishing.com. Deadline is Aug. 26.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based commercial fishing columnist. Contact her at msfish@alaskan.com.

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