Bristol Bay Fishermen, Processors Clash Over 50 Cents Per Pound Base Price

A pair of sockeye salmon. File photo.

Harvesters and processors in Alaska’s Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery are at odds over the 50 cents per pound that processors are offering for the robust catch, a price harvesters say will leave them with little, if any, income after expenses are paid.

Processors have cited not only their increased cost of doing business, but the large amount of the 2022 catch still unsold after last year’s record Bristol Bay harvest.

Veteran Bristol Bay fisherman Robert Cheyne Blough organized a protest at Naknek on July 20. He said that more than 100 fishing boats that were tied together paraded back and forth from of the dock at Naknek for about 12 hours, but did not interfere with deliveries to processors there.

What if any impact their protest had on the price of fish is still uncertain. Processors have declined to comment on the event.

Anchorage-based veteran seafood economist Gunnar Knapp said that a major glut of Bristol Bay salmon harvested last year had depressed prices. He also noted that some in the processing sector said that some lower quality fish were held over.

“Current wholesale prices are low and there is a lot of uncertainty of what prices will be going forward,” he said. “That makes processors very concerned.”

“Trident’s letter to harvesters said consumer demand for salmon is down due to economic conditions. What all this adds up to is complex, but it is all part of the picture, affecting wholesale prices of wild and farmed salmon,” he said.

“And then with the Ukrainian war, it’s part of a perfectly awful storm combining to create this situation in Bristol Bay. The only possible bright side of it is low prices over time tend to be self-correcting,” he said.

Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA), said this year’s 50-cent base price “was a shocking gut punch to fishermen, particularly when sockeye is often sold as a premium seafood product at grocery stores across the country. Trident says market conditions are bad for all seafood products right now. It suggests to me processors are facing low prices and they are short of cash.”

“The surprise and opaque nature of Bristol Bay sockeye prices are a major problem for the fishery,” Wink said. “BBRSDA is committed to working with fishermen to address those issues and pursue alternatives to the status quo, if that is what fishermen truly want. After all, our mission is maximizing the value of Bristol Bay salmon for the benefit of our members.”

What happens next could be an effort by the state of Alaska to intervene as a mediator.

Alaska State Statute Section 16.10.280 states that in the event of a disputes between fishermen and fish processors involving at least one-third of the registered commercial fishermen for that area a representative of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development shall intervene as a mediator of the dispute at the request of either party.

This can only happen if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has estimated how many harvesters how many harvesters constitute at least one-third of the registered fishermen for that area and no agreement has been reached on the price up to 120 days before the opening of the season. The state would then take into consideration a petition from either side requesting mediation.