Trident Seafoods, the country’s largest vertically integrated seafood company, announced a number of measures over the weekend that bode poorly for the Alaska salmon market, including an early end to its salmon buying season across much of the state.
In a letter over the weekend to fishermen who sell their catch to Trident, the company outlined the issues prompting low prices and a halt to most salmon purchases at month’s end.
“The current state of the salmon markets is volatile, and future indicators are even more concerning,” reads the letter, signed by Trident CEO Joe Bundrant and senior vice president for Alaska operations Jeff Welbourn. “We know this is not an easy time and we understand and empathize with our fishing community. Given how quickly things are changing we are committed to being as transparent as possible so you can make timely and informed decisions.”
The letter points to “sharp decreases in wholesale prices across all species” earlier in the fishing season, and more recently the “unprecedented decline” in prices paid for Bristol Bay sockeye to a minimum level of 50 cents per pound, well below last year’s average price of $1.39 per pound. That amount prompted protests by the commercial fishing fleet in the region at the end of July.
Industry analysts point to diminishing consumer interest in salmon, and a glut of inventory from last year’s record harvest of 74.8 million sockeye in Alaska, driven largely by the commercial harvest in Bristol Bay.
But Trident pointed to another factor: Russia catching huge quantities of pink salmon and flooding global markets to fund its war in Ukraine.
“Last week, Russia harvested pink volume equivalent to our entire Alaska pink annual forecast, and they have shown a willingness to offload inventory at very low prices in part to fund the war in Ukraine,” the letter stated. “We haven’t seen a collapse in value like this since the 1990s, when pinks went well under ten cents a pound.”
In response, Trident Seafoods said it will drop its ground price on what’s left of the commercial pink salmon harvest as more of the catch comes in, though the letter does not cite a specific amount.
The company also said it plans to stop buying salmon in all parts of Alaska “on or about September 1st,” except for the coho fisheries in Petersburg and Cordova South. Nor will Trident “be participating in the Puget Sound or Fall salmon fisheries,” the letter said.
The prospects for chum salmon are bleak, too, with Trident offering a ceiling of just 20 cents per pound across the entire state, “as chum markets have collapsed.”
“We’d like for the media to keep the focus on global market conditions and industry challenges, and we’re not commenting beyond what we shared with our fishermen in a confidential letter dated August 5th regarding current prices and market dynamics,” Alexis Telfer, Trident’s vice-president for global communications, said in an email late Tuesday night. “While Trident determines its prices independently, the conditions we noted are not unique to Trident; rather, current global market conditions are concerning for Alaska seafood as a whole.”
Though hardly the only large-scale seafood buyer and processor in Alaska, Trident is a major part of the state’s commercial industry. In addition to running vessels of its own, the company buys fish from thousands of independent operators, and runs several processing plants in communities across the Aleutians, Gulf of Alaska, Southeast and Bristol Bay.
This story has been updated with comment from Trident Seafoods.