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Positive trends highlighted in fall sockeye market analysis


McDowell study, commissioned by the BBRSDA, highlights high value of Bristol Bay’s 2017 catch, hints that next year is looking good so far, too.

Bristol Bay’s commercial fishing industry had a smashing good season in 2017. The massive forecast for next year has stirred a lot of excitement, and drift permit prices are up around $140,000. Now an annual analysis of the sockeye market suggests wholesale and retail prices are up, worldwide supply is down, and farmed salmon producers are still struggling to rebound. Only the prospect of Pebble Mine filing for permits has seemed to dampen the mood of Bristol Bay fishermen this fall.

Andy Wink, a senior seafood industry analyst at the McDowell Group, authored the “2017 Sockeye Market Analysis” for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. (The BBRSDA, which is funded through a one percent tax on the drift fleet’s harvest, is mandated to “advance the quality and market-success of Bristol Bay salmon,” and commissions these studies twice a year.)

The ex-vessel value of Bristol Bay sockeye “increased 37 percent in 2017,” wrote Wink, up to $210 using preliminary numbers, but he suggested that could go as high as $250 million when all the post-season adjustments are paid out.  The harvest was up two percent, and the ex-vessel price was up 34 percent.

Credit courtesy McDowell Group

Worldwide, the sockeye harvest was down 5 percent, even with Bristol Bay’s bumper year, helping create a stronger demand. “First wholesale of all major sockeye product forms increased in 2017,” Wink noted, and “retail prices of sockeye products will likely climb in 2017 and early 2018.”

Sockeye flown fresh out of Bristol Bay has increased “nearly 400 percent” since 2014, and “jumped 39 percent in 2017 to 3.1 million pounds.” Prices for fresh and frozen products have increased faster than canned products, which has seen a major production decline in Bristol Bay.

The dollar is weaker, some seven percent since the beginning of the year, which is good for U.S. companies trading fish in overseas markets. On the flip side, domestic consumption continues to grow.

“The share of Alaska sockeye products sold into the U.S. has nearly tripled since 2002. In value terms, the growth has likely been even greater,” Wink wrote in the report. He heaped praise on the BBRSDA’s marketing and branding campaign that is connecting domestic consumers with wild Alaska sockeye, and in particular, those caught in Bristol Bay.

Credit courtesy McDowell Group

Most of the news is good, but not all. Wink is keeping a careful eye on the sluggish movement of frozen H&G sockeye from May through August, which is down 31 percent from the same time the year before.

“Given that harvest volume was similar during the past two seasons, and in fact slightly larger in 2017, this development suggests buyers are being more cautious in 2017. It will be important to monitor sales volume throughout the 2017 sales season. Heading into a season with inventories of frozen product is almost always a drag on pricing,” he wrote.

There is also a lot of uncertainty surrounding trade, following the Trump administration’s abandoning of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Imports of Russia sockeye are up, and farmed salmon production seems to be improving, noted Wink, following recent algae and lice problems in Chile and Norway, respectively.

And next year the Fraser River in British Columbia could produce a massive run, which happens about every fourth year. Canadian managers forecast the river with wide variability, but on the upper end it could compete with Bristol Bay. However, next year will mark the return of sockeye that were impacted by the Mount Polley Mine tailings dam disaster, which adds even more variability to the Fraser run.

Wink also pointed out the 5.2 million Bristol Bay sockeye counted as “over-escapement” or “foregone harvest” as a drag on the value of the fishery. Those fish went uncaught due mainly to limitations of processors and even the limitations of individual vessels in 2017. Wink estimates they were worth $29 million, “or about $12,120 per active drift/set permit.”

Overall, 2017 was a “great year,” and Wink is optimistic heading into 2018.

“While future market developments can never be predicted with total certainty and several factors could negatively affect sockeye value over the next 18 months, the value outlook is relatively stable. The recent spike in harvest value is not expected to be followed by a sharp decline, as happened in 2014-2015 (barring a significant reduction in future harvest volume). Further, net processing revenue has trended up in recent years and is not expected to face a precipitous decline this year, as was witnessed following the 2014 season.”

Find his report and presentation at, and listen to KDLG next week for an interview with Andy Wink during our recap of this year's Pacific Marine Expo. or 907.842.5281