Story last updated at 2/20/2013 - 2:02 pm
In a word, the outlook for Alaska salmon markets this year is favorable.
That's the conclusion of Gunnar Knapp, fisheries economist at the University of Alaska/Anchorage in an overview of world markets to Alaska legislators.
He cited three key factors for the short term outlook: lower sockeye harvests, strong canned salmon markets with low inventories, and strengthening prices for farmed salmon.
Lower harvests can boost prices, and Alaska wild salmon tends to follow the trend for farmed salmon, which dominates global markets. Alaska's 2012 harvest of 124 million salmon was the lowest since 1998.
Farmed Atlantic salmon now accounts for two-thirds of world supply. Alaska wild salmon accounts for less than one third of U.S. fresh and frozen salmon consumption.
Positive trends for Alaska show a steady increase in the value of pink salmon - nearly two-thirds of Alaska pink production was frozen in 2011 instead of going into lower value cans. That compares to less than 20 percent of pinks hitting the freezers in the late 1990s.
Alaska also has diversified its markets, with less salmon going to Japan, and more going to Europe and China, where it is reprocessed into portions and sent back to the U.S. and other places for sale.
The dockside value of Alaska's salmon harvests went from $164 million in 2002 to $603 million in 2010. (The value was nearly $660 million in 2011 and $506 million in 2012.) The wholesale value since then also has surged from $466 million in 2002 to $1.5 billion in 2011. Total processor margin and total ex-vessel (dockside) value have risen by similar amounts.
There are 27 different limited entry salmon fisheries in Alaska, Knapp said, and the increased permit values shows that salmon fishermen have become increasingly optimistic about the future of Alaska's salmon fisheries. Knapp credits the good showing since 2002 to sustained and effective niche marketing, successful expansion of markets, new product forms, improved quality, and overall increased global appetites for salmon.
Even though market forces appear favorable at this point, Knapp cautions that only one thing is for sure - "The most certain thing is something will happen to surprise us," he said.
Find Knapp's complete report, which is full of salmon market charts, at http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/people/knapp/personal/Gunnar.Knapp@uaa.alaska.edu
Price watch - Last year Alaska's salmon industry figured prices would plummet since Chilean fish farmers were back in the game after several years, when a deadly virus wiped out their stocks. Prices dipped a bit, but not as badly as people feared. Here are the 2012 statewide price averages per pound by species, with 2011 prices in parentheses: Chinook: $3.99 ($3.53); Sockeye: $1.16 ($1.31); Coho: $1.16 ($1.15); Pinks: $0.43 ($0.46); Chums: $0.75 ($0.84).
Speaking of salmon: The Food and Drug Administration has extended the public comment period for genetically modified salmon, aka Frankenfish, to April 26. As of Feb. 14, the FDA had received nearly 32,000 comments, running 100-1 against approval of what would be the first man made animal for human consumption. Comment at www.regulations.gov
Lent = seafood sales - Ash Wednesday on Feb. 13 marked the start of Lent, a time of fasting and soul searching for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.
The word Lent derives from the Old English lencten, meaning spring. Many believers will give up favorite foods during Lent, or they'll devote time to volunteering or charity work.
And what the peak holiday selling season from Thanksgiving to Christmas means to retailers, Lent means to the seafood industry. Food Services of America, for example, reports that Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for frozen seafood sales, and the six weeks following is the top selling season for the entire year.
The 40-day Lenten season, which this year runs from Feb. 13 to Easter Sunday on March 31, dates back to the 4th century. Ash Wednesday is so called from the ritual of placing ashes from burned palm branches on the forehead as a sign of repentance. The ashes symbolize the religious statement "remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."
In many countries, the day before Lent, called Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, has become a last fling before the start of the long fasting season. For centuries, it was customary to not eat meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival "carnival," Latin for farewell to meat.
While nearly all seafood enjoys a surge of interest during Lent, the most traditional items served are the so called "whitefish" species, such as cod, pollock, flounders, and halibut. But no matter what the seafood favorite, the six-week Lenten season is good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 60 percent of the nation's wild caught seafood to U.S. restaurants and grocery stores.
Halibut scholarships - If you are heading to college and have been involved in the halibut industry, scholarships await! The International Pacific Halibut Commission offers merit scholarships to support college, technical schooling and other post-secondary education. The scholarships are for $2,000 per year, and are renewable for a normal four year period of undergraduate education. A committee of industry and commission representatives reviews the applications and determines recipients based on academic qualifications, career goals, and relationship to the halibut industry. The scholarships for 2013 will be available for college entrance or continuation in fall 2013.
Questions? Contact Eva Luna (206) 634-1838 (ext. 7661) or Bruce Leaman (ext. 7672). June 28, 2013. Applications may be downloaded from the IPHC website at:
www.iphc.int/opportunities/scholarship.html . Deadline to apply is June 28.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.