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Fisheries

Salmon processors boost prices amid favorable markets for sockeye

sockeye_yako_creek_bv.jpeg
KDLG/Brian Venua
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Salmon processors in Bristol Bay are boosting the prices per pound for sockeye amid favorable markets. Preliminary data released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in November, suggests better prices and increased demand over 2020’s salmon season. That improvement extends beyond Bristol Bay, as more fisheries across the state had better harvests this year.

  

Processors like Silver Bay Seafoods and Peter Pan Seafoods have adjusted its ex-vessel price or price per pound for sockeye this fall. Silver Bay is now paying out $1.45 per pound of sockeye to fishermen -- a 20 cent increase from the previous total of $1.25. Both processors are also offering more money for better quality fish.

Abby Frederick is a spokesperson for Silver Bay.

“Obviously the base price comes out or it’s announced earlier in the season,” Frederick said. “Now that we can see where it’s at, where sales are going and really have a confident look we’re excited to celebrate that with our fleet.”

Peter Pan Seafood’s is also upping its base price by 20 cents, to $1.45 per pound, according to a statement from Vice President of Operations Jon Hickman.

Correction: Spokesperson Becca Pilipchuk sent the statement from VPO Jon Hickman to KDLG. The above attribution was changed to Jon Hickman. 

Before the 2021 season started in June, Peter Pan set an initial price of $1.10. It was the first time in decades that a Bristol Bay processor had told fishermen what they’d make before the season started. After some record breaking runs in July, they bumped the price to $1.25.

They’re notable increases compared to last year. According to preliminary data released in October from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the region's final adjusted price in 2020 was $1.06.

Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association’s CEO Andy Wink says the COVID-19 pandemic and poor salmon runs made last year unusual.

“The only thing COVID did was, it created a massive increase in general business risk," Wink said. "If we all think back to March April May, we didn’t know what the next two weeks were going to look like. Makes it very difficult for businesses to make long term plans and so that affects how buyers buy.”

Sockeye supply declined by 23% in 2020. Wink says if you exclude the Bay, 2020 was one of the lowest harvests since 1979.

“Some years you can have other species not doing as well,” Wink said. “You know just not as much product and not as much revenue to work with that year. It’s hard to say what sort of impact that has exactly, but it’s not great if you’re trying to run a processor business. Fishermen and processors are linked pretty closely right? What affects one affects the other.

But this year, preliminary data suggests that global sockeye production is up by 10%, or 330 million pounds. That’s attributed not only to Bristol Bay, but better runs and harvests outside of the region. 

In Alaska, Estimated total harvest went from 517 million pounds of sockeye in 2020 to 858 million 2021.

A few areas more than doubled their harvest per pound this year. In Southeast, harvest went from 74 million pounds to 198 million. The Prince William Sound area had the largest increase of 102 million pounds of sockeye to 236 million. And the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Island areas jumped from 35 million pounds to 97 million. Bristol Bay’s harvest was consistent with last year’s total at 200 million pounds.

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Credit National Marine Fisheries Service Trade Data
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Demand for exported U.S. salmon is also driving better prices for sockeye.

On top of better salmon runs and harvests, the demand for sockeye in the U.S is also on the rise. Wink says more retailers are starting to carry sockeye. And the rise in demand is driving up the price. For example, Bristol Bay’s first wholesale value for frozen headed and gutted salmon through the months of July and August are up by $1 at $4.33 per pound, while frozen filets are up by 75 cents.

The average price of sockeye filets retails at $12.94 per pound. It was $11.99 in 2020.

“Typically, they’ll either sell it frozen, or they’ll slack it out and sell it out of their case as a chilled product,” Wink said. “The more stores that are doing that, the more demand there's going to be. People that have a Costco near them probably have seen sockeye in Costco as well as Sam’s Club and a lot of other places. But that’s probably not something that was there several years ago on a year round basis.”

Overall, it’s estimated that seafood processors paid fishermen working in Alaska a total of $643 million this year. That’s more than double last year’s total. Bristol Bay leads all areas with a value of $248 million which is about 40% of the statewide total. It was also a record year for salmon runs in the Bay, with 65.8 million fish.

Next year could also be another record year for Bristol Bay. Fish and Game’s preseason forecast predicts a run of 75.2 million fish.

Contact the author at tyler@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200