Alaska salmon sales had lots of ups and downs this summer, but held their own overall in a tough market awash with farmed fish.
Fish factor: Alaska salmon steady against farmed market 102412 BUSINESS 1 Capital City Weekly Alaska salmon sales had lots of ups and downs this summer, but held their own overall in a tough market awash with farmed fish.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Story last updated at 10/24/2012 - 5:54 pm

Fish factor: Alaska salmon steady against farmed market

Alaska salmon sales had lots of ups and downs this summer, but held their own overall in a tough market awash with farmed fish.

The wild salmon catch goes to market in many forms such as canned, fresh or frozen, fillets and roe. The state Revenue Department/Tax Division provides quartile reports on first wholesale prices for all of Alaska's salmon forms by species and region. Its report covering May - August shows lots of wild salmon fillets were tossed on the grill this summer, and people were willing to pay more for them.

Alaska processors produced more than 13 million pounds of salmon fillets during the summer season. Prices for king fillets averaged $11.45 per pound, a 70-cent increase over last year. Fresh sockeye salmon fillets averaged $7.60 per pound, and $7.24 per pound for coho fillets - an increase of 66 cents for both. Only chum fillets fell at wholesale to $3.25 a pound, down 52 cents from last summer.

Salmon roe prices, especially for pinks and chums, showed big jumps this summer. Pink salmon roe at $9.28 per pound was a 53 percent increase over last season; chum roe increased from $12.17 to $15 per pound.

Nearly two million pounds of sockeye roe ($6.31 per pound compared to $5.31 per pound) came from Bristol Bay, valued at more than $12 million. Prince William Sound led the pack for pink salmon roe at one million pounds, worth more than $11 million. Southeast Alaska scooped the most chum roe - 1.2 million pounds, valued at nearly $21 million.

On the down side: most of Alaska's salmon catch is sold in headed/gutted form, either fresh or frozen. Those wholesale prices were down nearly across the board. Here's a sampler with 2011 prices in parentheses:

Fresh H&G sockeye - $.367 ($3.77); pink salmon - $1.31 ($1.43);

Chum - $1.67 ($2.10). The fresh king salmon wholesale price averaged $7.49 per pound, an increase of 82 cents per pound; cohos increased two cents to $3.42 per pound.

Frozen H&G sockeye - $2.81 ($3.17); king salmon - $3.16 ($4.10); pinks - $1.23 ($1.45); coho - $2.58 ($2.66); chum - $1.40 ($1.87).

Alaska's preliminary salmon catch for 2012 totaled just less than 124 million fish.

King crab market clipped - Crabbers agreed to an advance price of $7.25 per pound for red king crab shortly after they dropped pots last week in Bristol Bay waters.

"This represents approximately 90 percent of the expected final price given current market conditions. Of course, market conditions are subject to change," said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents a majority of the Bering Sea crab fleet.

Nearly eight million pounds of red king crab will come from Bristol Bay waters this season, about the same as last year. Prices topped $10 a pound to fishermen after sales in 2011, the market has shifted quite a bit this year.

"After the record run up in prices last year when they were over $20 a pound (shipped to Japan or Seattle for brine/bulk crab) a lot of buyers backed away," said John Sackton, a crab market expert and editor of "There also were reports prior to the season that U.S. companies still had some crab from last season that was unsold."

Japan is the price setter this year, and demand for king crab there is down. Buyers have floated first wholesale prices in the $14-$18 per pound range, Sackton said, down about 25 percent from last season.

Another downward press on prices is coming again from king crab poachers in the Russian fishery. Sackton said the numbers between catch quotas and crab deliveries to Japan and elsewhere simply don't add up.

"Trade figures show that in 2005-2006 the global trade in king crab was literally four to five times as much as the legal landings," Sackton said. "They have gone down but are still about twice as high. There is no question that this fishery still has a large component in the Far East that is being taken illegally."

Big fish on the Rock - More than 200 fishery scientists and professionals are gathering in Kodiak this week to both teach and learn about current research and other goings on in Alaska. The state chapter of the American Fisheries Society will welcome the Kodiak community to share in the educational extravaganza. The American Fisheries Society, founded in 1870, is the world's oldest and largest fisheries science society, with more than 9,000 members worldwide.

The theme of the Kodiak event covers ecosystems, fisheries and food sustainability in a changing world. Other topics include seafood processing, marketing, invasive species and subsistence. The Coast Guard also will provide courses on aircraft stranding and crashing, and land and raft survival.

The AFS meetings take place at the downtown Harbor Convention Center. There is a charge for some sessions; limited scholarships are available. Contact Kodiak Marine Advisory Agent Julie Matweyou at 486-1514. Find the agend

Fish watch - The Bering Sea pollock fishery is wrapping up for the year with a catch approaching two billion pounds. Fishing was good by most accounts, but the fleet had to travel far to get it - 500 miles out near the Russian fishing border. The state's biggest herring fishery at Togiak has gotten even bigger. Fishery managers forecast a haul of 30,056 tons of herring in the spring sac roe fishery. That compares to a quota this year of 21,622 tons.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.