Record prices for Copper River salmon spur market optimism ahead of Bristol Bay fishery
This article originally appeared on KDLG.org and is republished here with permission.
DILLINGHAM – It’s been a tough spring for the Copper River sockeye fishery in south-central Alaska.
Copper River was one of the first fisheries to offer fresh salmon – its runs mark the start of the state’s trading season. But the low number of sockeye returning this year has limited fishing opportunities.
The comeback resumes, but until last week the season was similar to 2020, which ended with some of the lowest sockeye catches on record. But one thing is very different from last year: a record price for salmon.
âThe markets were hot. And we were able to pay that price and pass it on to the fishermen, âsaid Jon Hickman, executive vice president of Peter Pan Seafoods.
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 said the reason for the price hikes 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 ease, 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.
Hickman said the size of the Bristol Bay race – and the size of the fish – will determine what products they focus on and what the price is.
âThe 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,â 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 although Bristol Bay is a very different fishery, the high prices in the Copper River are encouraging.
âI think seeing high prices early on for Copper River is certainly a good sign, in terms of the market situation and the demand there is,â he said. âAlmost all of this product goes to the fresh market and is sold fresh. We do marketing promotions with many retailers in the United States and there is already a lot of demand for this.
There was strong demand for seafood from retailers last year, and Bristol Bay saw less competition from other fisheries that 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.
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.
âI think people have more money to spend and seafood is what they want to spend these days,â he said. âWe 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 Bristol Bay sockeye may fall into that category. “
Concerns from fishermen about 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 said this risk is decreasing. Wink, the executive director, thinks the season may be better for anglers.
“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.