Record Copper River Prices Boost Market Optimism Ahead of Bristol Bay Fishing
The state’s fishermen are preparing for the summer season. Pre-season rates were very high for salmon from early fisheries like Copper River, and some in the industry are optimistic about what this summer will bring, despite poor yields from one of the state’s premier fisheries.
The spring was tough for the Copper River sockeye fishery.
Copper River is one of the first fisheries to offer fresh salmon – its runs mark the start of the state’s commercial season. But the low number of sockeye returning this year has limited fishing opportunities.
The race resumes, but so far the season has followed an unfortunately familiar trend. The 2020 sockeye return was one of the weakest on record. But one thing is very different from last year.
“The markets were hot. And we were able to pay that price and pass it on to the fishermen, ”said Jon Hickman, executive vice president of Peter Pan Seafoods.
This year it is even hotter. In May, the company announced it would pay triple the prices of last year for sockeye and king salmon. This year he will pay $ 19.60 a pound for kings and $ 12.60 a pound for sockeye. In 2020, the Sockeye went for around $ 4 and the Kings for $ 6.
the Cordova Times reported pre-orders of sockeye fillets from retailers reached $ 54 a pound. King fillets were selling for up to $ 80 a pound.
Hickman says the reason for the price hike is “fairly straightforward”; Copper River is the first fishery of the season, so competition is low. And demand is high – Peter Pan’s customers include restaurants and other high-end retailers, and as COVID restrictions relax, restaurants are welcoming more and more diners.
Record prices fuel optimism within the industry ahead of a very different fishery. Bristol Bay is the largest sockeye fishery in the world, and unlike Copper River, it runs concurrently with fishing in other parts of the state, which begins in earnest in mid-June. (When does it open?)
Hickman says the size of the Bristol Bay run – and the size of the fish – will determine what products they focus on and what the price is.
“The size of the fish is going to be a big issue for us, and the way we manage the size of the fish and put them in the right places for the best return,” he said. Keeping things cool and keeping our fishermen with their nets in the water.
Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said that although Bristol Bay is a very different fishery, the high prices of the Copper River are encouraging.
“I think seeing high prices early on for Copper River is definitely a good sign, in terms of market conditions and demand,” he said. “Most of this product goes into the fresh market and is sold fresh. We do marketing promotions with a lot of retailers in the US and there is already a lot of demand for that.
There was a strong demand for seafood from retailers last year, and Bristol Bay saw less competition from other fisheries which experienced weaker returns. Still, the prices were really low.
The base price at Bristol Bay has fallen to 70 cents a pound, about half of what it was in 2019.
Along with the market downturn, processors have spent tens of millions of dollars on COVID-19 mitigation plans.
Dan Lesh, an economist with the McKinley Research Group, said that while there will always be additional costs associated with the pandemic, he expects them to be much lower this year.
Lesh said that another factor that could help fishermen earn more wages is higher personal income.
“I think people have more money to spend and seafood is what they want to spend these days,” he said. “We know that personal income increased last year, between things like stimulus bills and also less spending on different services, helped push up the prices of higher quality seafood, and I think that Bristol Bay sockeye may fall into this category.
Concerns from fishermen over the low base price in 2020 prompted the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association to release a report outlining some of the reasons the price was so low. These included the business risk from the pandemic, higher operating costs and losses in other fisheries in the state.
This year, BBRSDA says this risk is decreasing. Wink, the executive director, thinks the season could be better for the fishermen.
“I guess the price remains to be seen, but I think when you look at the market factors that are in place now compared to the same time last year, things look more bullish and somehow look more favorable.” , did he declare.
Bristol Bay fishing starts in mid-June.
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