PUBLISHED: 4:37 PM on Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Retro payments coming in for 2007 salmon catch
Alaska fishermen could be getting some nice retro payments for their 2007 salmon catches. The prices advanced this summer at the docks were for the most part disappointing, but fishermen who receive bonuses based on salmon sales should soon see some extra cash.

Sales of Alaska salmon are tracked according to categories, such as fresh or frozen, fillets, roe and canned. Total May through August sales of all Alaska salmon were $380 million, up nine percent from last year ($347 million), according to the 2007 Alaska Salmon Price Report by the Dept. of Revenue.

The sales value of fresh Alaska salmon (headed/gutted) increased 22 percent to $81 million. The value of salmon roe jumped from $46 million to $61 million, a 32 percent increase. For salmon fillets (fresh and frozen), the sales value jumped 50 percent, from $26 million to $39 million.

The only salmon item that declined in value is canned reds and pinks, which make up the bulk of Alaska's total harvest. Canned salmon values dropped 20 percent from $72 million to $58 million.

The sales season for canned salmon starts in September, and the 2007 pack went into a plugged market. Stacks in warehouses of nearly 1.6 million cases of canned sockeye (48 talls) is believed to be the largest inventory in 20 years, said the ASMI Seafood Market Bulletin.

The Bulletin said 62 percent of Bristol Bay's 30 million sockeye catch went into cans this summer. An even larger harvest is projected there in 2008, meaning the canned red salmon market will be oversupplied for some time. Some relief could come from the weakened value of the U.S. dollar against other currencies, notably Europe and Great Britain where canned sockeye is extremely popular.

Canned pinks are also facing an oversupply in the market. Alaska processors put up 3.6 million cases of pink salmon this summer from 143 million fish, the third largest catch on record. Relief could come from lower pink salmon catches projected for 2008. Also, the shift by Alaska seafood processors away from cans to pricier frozen forms is here to stay. The ASMI Bulletin said 50 percent of the 2007 pink salmon catch went into cans, down from 64 percent just three years ago.

Bye to 'but

Alaska's 2007 halibut fishery ended on Nov. 15 and it looks like fishermen hauled in nearly all of the 50 million pounds allowed in this year's catch limit. Fishermen also hauled in unheard of halibut prices, topping $5 a pound in most major ports.

Here's a sampler: at Kodiak halibut prices ranged from $4.50 to $5 per pound. At Homer, where access to a road system serves to sweeten the price, halibut was fetching $5.00 to $5.50/lb. (An increase of more than 50 cents since September.) Halibut prices at Dutch Harbor ticked steadily upward to close the season at $4.25 to $ 4.75. And fresh halibut was "flying off the docks" in Southeast Alaska, where dock prices were reported at $5.10 to $5.45 per pound.

Homer retains the title as the nation's No. 1 halibut port, with 20 percent of the total catch crossing those docks. That's followed by Kodiak, Seward, Sitka and Dutch Harbor.

Fishery managers will announce the 2008 halibut catch numbers in mid January. The Alaska halibut fishery will reopen in early March.

Welch, who lives in Kodiak, has written about Alaska'sseafood industry since 1988.