Catch Tops 12M Salmon; Price to Harvesters is Low

Fishing has all but halted in Bristol Bay, with permit holders and processors alike packing up for the season, after a harvest of more than 36 million salmon, including 35.5 million sockeyes. The robust harvest came over a week later than expected, and a perfect storm of economic factors has resulted in the base price offered by most processors to be 50 cents a pound, plus bonuses for chilling and bleeding fish before delivery.

Veteran Bristol Bay harvester Dave Harsila, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association in Seattle, said fishermen did not expect the price to be that low. A year ago the base price was $1.20 a pound.

Still the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents some 7,000 drift gillnetters, is calling the harvest a historic one, with a much higher than average return and a surprisingly late, long run.

The BBRSDA said that because most of the Bristol Bay sockeye were flash frozen during the peak of the season, late July and August signal the real start of the Bristol Bay salmon season for consumers.

Fishermen were aware of a large carry over of canned and frozen fillet inventory, plus a lack of leverage in wholesale markets, due to the value of the dollar against the yen and euro, along with Russia’s continuing embargo on US seafood.

“The strong dollar has worked against us in the export market,” Harsila said.

There’s still hope of markets rebounding by fall, and the prospect of adjustments in prices to fishermen.

The statewide harvest of wild Alaska salmon has now reached more than 112 million fish, including 55,847,000 humpies, 47,262,000 reds, 8,310,000 chums, 930,000 silvers and 481,000 Chinook salmon.
Deliveries to date to processors, estimated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, include 7.5 million fish from the Alaska Peninsula, more than 6 million salmon from Kodiak, 10.4 million from Southeast Alaska, 47.8 million salmon from Prince William Sound, 2.4 million salmon from Cook Inlet, and 795,000 salmon from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region.