The latest Bristol Bay sockeye harvest was the second largest of the past two decades and resulted in the largest total ex-vessel value since the mid-1990s after adjusting for inflation, but it could have been even better, the McDowell Group said in its 43-page report to the BBRSDA, which represents Bristol Bay’s driftnet fleet.
Limits put on harvests resulted in over-escapement for several river systems, and an opportunity cost to harvesters of an estimated $29.2 million, the report said.
Still early sales volumes of frozen, headed and gutted sockeye produced in 2017 trailed 2016 sales by 31 percent, and selling out frozen inventory ahead of the 2018 season will be critical for pricing prospects next spring.
While future market developments can’t be predicted with total certainty, the value outlook is relatively stable, the report read.
McDowell Group researchers noted that prices of headed and gutted and fillet products have increased faster than canned forms in recent years, resulting in processors canning less sockeye salmon, despite larger harvests. While lower production volume has pushed canned salmon prices upward, this could result in less demand for canned salmon going forward, with the recent spike in harvest value not expected to be followed by a sharp decline, which is what happened in 2014-2015, according to the report.
Frozen fillets and fresh sales have seen growth in recent years, with statewide sockeye fillet production up 63 percent between 2013 and 2016, and may have increased even further in 2017, including sales of fresh headed and gutted sockeye from Bristol Bay up 39 percent to 3.1 million pounds.
The preliminary ex-vessel value of Bristol Bay sockeyes rose 37 percent this year to $210 million, with ex-vessel prices up 34 percent over 2016, while sockeye harvests rose by two percent, according to preliminary data. Assuming static prices, the value of 2017 foregone sockeye harvests in the Bay is estimated at $29 million, the report read.
Global sockeye harvests meanwhile fell five percent, about 20 million pounds, again based on preliminary data.
In preparation for the report, McDowell Group compiled information from the Alaska Departments of Fish and Game and Revenue, including fish ticket data and the commercial operators annual report, in addition to export data from the National Marine Fisheries Service.