Pink prices could fall to 10 cents a pound
What began as a bad Alaska salmon season has suddenly gotten a whole lot worse.
And no, it isn’t about “Otis” or any other Western Alaska brown/grizzly bear in danger of starving to death because of disappearing Bristol Bay sockeye salmon as reported by the Washington Post and the Anchorage Daily News.
There are lots and lots of sockeye. Despite what a WaPo reporter might believe, and Alaska’s largest newspaper might be ignorant enough to reprint, global warming hasn’t harmed Bay sockeye.
To date, warming has done the opposite. It has caused a huge boom in sockeye numbers. That could change in the future but for the moment there is a suffering of surplus.
In simple economic terms, supply is so much greater than demand that prices have come crashing down for sockeyes and pinks are about to follow.
Boom goes bust
“The current state of salmon markets is volatile,” as Trident Seafoods, the state’s largest processor and industry leader in setting market prices, put it in an Aug. 5 letter to the fishermen who sell salmon to the company. “And future indicators are even more concerning.
“Spring of 2023 brought a sharp decrease in wholesale prices across all species and continues to drop as the weeks progress.”
The really bad news followed:
- “As chum (salmon) markets have collapsed, remaining chum harvests will be 20 cents (per pound), all-in, statewide.
- On or about Sept. 1, 2023 we will stop buying salmon in all areas except for Petersburg and Cordova South, which will keep supporting coho fisheries.
Unclear was what exactly the company planned to do about prices for pink salmon. But there was the hint which usually comprise the bulk of the Alaska harvest might fall to a dime a pound.
Because of an unprecedented harvest of 74.8 million sockeye salmon last year, nearly all of them from the Bay, plus even-numbered years being weak years for the fish most Alaskans call humpies, pinks last year compromised only 43 percent of the harvest, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
But despite another big harvest of more than 39 million more sockeye in the Bay this year, pinks are back on top with a variety of commercial pink fisheries still going strong.
As of this writing, Fish and Game reports pinks have surpassed 45 percent of the catch and are steadily pushing toward more than 50 percent. The preseason forecast was for a harvest of 122 million pinks predicted to comprise about 65 percent of a total, statewide, all-species salmon harvest of 189 million salmon.
Russian pinks roil market
But the forecast Alaska pink harvest, if achieved, is small potatoes compared to what has already been caught on the west side of the globally warmed Bering Sea. Seafound Source, a trade publication, says Russian fishermen had as of last week harvested 285,000 metric tonnes of pink salmon.
Pinks are the smallest of the Pacific salmon, and generally weigh three to four pounds. At a weight of four pounds, 285,000 metric tonnes would translate into approximately 157 million pinks, and the Russian salmon season is far from done.
“Last week, Russia harvested pink volume equivalent to our entire Alaska pink annual forecast (of 122 million), and they have shown a willingness to offload inventory at very low prices in part to fund the war in Ukraine,” Trident said in its communique, which hinted at an Alaska pink salmon price as low as 10 cents per pound.
That’s a third to a fifth of what commercial fishermen were being paid in Alaska last year with average prices ranging from a low of 30 cents per pound in Alaska Peninsula fisheries to a high of 53 cents per pound in Prince William Sound, the humpy capital of North America, according to Fish and Game.
The 2022 Sound harvest of nearly 28.5 million pinks – more than 40 percent of the statewide total for the year – helped push the state average up to 43 cents per pound.
Sound seiners who’ve enjoyed some big money years scooping up hatchery pinks are likely to take a big hit this year despite the efforts of the Alaska congressional delegation to encourage the federal government to head off this storm that many saw coming as far back as last winter.
“We haven’t seen a collapse in value like this since the 1990s when pinks went well under 10 cents a pound,” Trident said. “At the same time, record inflation is pushing up costs across the board for everyone. Trident is actively managing internal costs so we can return as much value as possible to our fishermen during this period.
“We are doing everything we can during this time to maintain service, stability and value for our fleet.”
Whether Alaska fishermen were buying that pitch or not is unclear. They’d earlier protested in the Bay over a 50 cent per pound base price for sockeye with bonuses paid for salmon bled and chilled before delivery.
Some fishermen were hopeful the season-end price might average as high as 70 cents per pound or about 60 percent of the $1.15 average last year.
That is now looking overly optimistic, but likely to be a way better deal than the fishermen who live or die on pink salmon catches are going to see.