Business/Economy

As hoped, early Alaska salmon prices are up across the board

Early prices to Alaska salmon fishermen are trickling in, and as anticipated, they are up across the board. That will give a nice boost to the economic base of both fishing communities and the state from fish taxes, fees and other assessments.

About one-third (62 million) of Alaska’s projected catch of 190 million salmon had crossed the docks by July 16 at the halfway point of the fishing season.

Prices paid to fishermen vary based on buyers, gear types and regions, and bonuses and postseason pay adjustments won’t be finalized until early next year.

Here’s an early snapshot of average base prices from major processors at this point in the season:

At Bristol Bay, the sockeye price to fishermen was boosted to $1.25 by OBI Seafoods, topping the $1.10 Peter Pan posted in June before the start of the fishery, and up from $0.70 last year. (Peter Pan is now matching the $1.25 price.)

Kodiak fishermen were getting $1.45-$1.50 for sockeyes and $1.75 at Southeast.

That compares to a statewide average of just $0.76 a pound for sockeye salmon last year. A 2021 catch of 46.6 million sockeyes is expected for Alaska; the total so far has topped 44 million.

Pink salmon were averaging $0.35 cents a pound for fishermen. An Alaska harvest of 124.2 million pinks is expected this summer, nearly 49% higher than last year. The statewide pink salmon price in 2020 averaged $0.30 cents a pound.

Chums were averaging $0.50 per pound for Kodiak fishermen, twice last year’s price, and $0.85 at Southeast Alaska, compared to $0.45. The average chum price in 2020 was $0.43 cents a pound.

According to the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, troll-caught kings at Southeast were averaging $6.73 a pound, compared to a statewide average of $5.07 last year. With average weights at 11 pounds, each Chinook was again worth more than one barrel of Alaska crude oil. ($74.03 vs. 73.48 as of July 16).

Coho salmon catches will begin adding up in August but troll caught silvers at Southeast were paying fishermen a whopping $2.50 per pound for all sizes. That compares to $1.74 at the Panhandle last year and a statewide average for silvers at $1.17.

Smaller sockeyes – The run of sockeye salmon returning home to Bristol Bay could set a record at 66 million fish. The bay-wide catch has topped 36 million, but the reds are smaller than in past years.

The average size this summer is 4.5 pounds compared to 5.1 pounds last year, said Dan Lesh with McKinley Research Group. Still, the sockeyes are heading into an eager market.

“Supply is low and there is strong demand for premium seafoods across the board,” he said. “People have more money and spending at foodservice is at pre-pandemic levels.”

It’s “so far, so good” as far as putting a smaller fish on the plate, Lesh said, adding that it could mean adjustments for various salmon products.

Bristol Bay reds aren’t the only ones shrinking. Chinook size has declined the most at 8%; 3.3% in cohos, 2.4% in chum salmon and a 2.1% shrinkage in sockeyes overall.

That’s based on 60 years of measurements from 12.5 million Alaska salmon, excluding pinks by Nature Communications that compared average body lengths before 1990 and after 2010.

Sleeping at sea, or not - Finding time to sleep is one of the biggest challenges during a fishing trip, especially during limited openers. The pressure to bait and pull pots or lines and handle nets can be unrelenting.

“The less you sleep, the more money you make in some sense. That’s a really hard thing to overcome. Because everybody wants to make more money,” said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association at Sitka.

Sleep deprivation leads to more accidents and worsens physical performance, he told KDLL in Kenai

“The military alone has done volumes on this because of performance of personnel in the military. But not much has been done in the commercial fishing industry. And I think that’s the big thing,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve had one person tell me it’s not a problem.”

AMSEA has partnered with national organizations for a two year project with 200 randomly selected fishermen in Alaska, Oregon and the Northeast. The group will track and hear fishermen’s concerns about their sleep patterns and possible effects on their safety and health.

Funding comes from the US Coast Guard and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

NIOSH spokesperson Julie Sorensen told National Fisherman that fishermen have said they wonder how sleep deprivation will impact their cognitive ability as they get older. Many are curious about energy drinks, naps, diet, and other sleep disrupters.

Find links to the project called “Assessments of Sleep Deprivation and Associated Health and Cognitive Impacts in Commercial Fishermen” at www.necenter.org/

Expo is back! Pacific Marine Expo is back in person after COVID forced it to cancel last year. Now in its 55th year, the trade show is set for Nov. 18-20 at the Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle.

Expo is on track to host about 500 vendors and the timing will attract even more visitors, said Bob Callahan, vice president of Diversified Communications Group and Expo director.

“What’s in our favor this year is whenever the show dates are just prior to Thanksgiving, it’s usually one of our most productive shows and our exhibitors are very happy about it,” he said.

“The dates are a jumping off point for our Alaskan attendees that are traveling for Thanksgiving,” he added. “They spend a few days at the show, and then they either stay in Seattle, or they travel throughout the country to visit family for the holiday weekend.”

“Having a face to face event, I think, is coming out stronger after COVID, than people perceived before,” he added.

This year’s Expo has another good lure.

“This year is a bonus because the Seahawks play on Sunday, the day after the show closes,” Callahan said. “They play the Cardinals. So we’ll be giving out Seahawks tickets over the three days.”

Fish bit - Halibut prices paid out at $7.25/$7.65/$7.85 to fishermen at Homer in mid-July and $7.05/$7.30/$7.55 at Seward, posted the Fish Ticket.

At the grocery store - U.S. fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable seafood sales reached $585 million in June 2021. That was a 5.3 percent drop from 2020, but sales surged nearly 44% this June compared to 2019, reported SeafoodSource.

For the first six months of 2021, fresh and frozen seafood posted a midyear increase versus 2020, “with increases in household penetration, trips and spend per trip,” 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink said. Ambient (shelf-stable) seafood sales, meanwhile, have declined over the past six months.

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