Salmon Report Will Provide Processing, Sales Insights

LAINE WELCH
FISHERIES

February 10 , 2007

Industry watchers will soon have a more complete picture of how Alaska salmon is playing out in world markets. The state Department of Revenue is expected to release its annual "score card" for the 2006 salmon fishery any day.

The Alaska Salmon Price Report will provide first wholesale prices and sales volumes for key salmon products: canned salmon, fresh and frozen/headed and gutted, fresh and frozen fillets, and salmon roe.

The Annual Production Report will tell exactly how much salmon was processed by Alaska seafood companies last year.

"It allows us to pin down what we produced and what was the real growth in products like fillets, which are of great interest to many people," said analyst Chris McDowell of the Juneau-based McDowell Group, which tracks and translates the salmon data in reports to the industry.

Some of the 2006 salmon highlights:

Alaska chum salmon continued to show substantial price recovery at the docks, from 19 cents a pound three years ago to 31 cents per pound. The 20-year average is 32 cents a pound.

"The dockside value was about $56 million, and 18 percent of Alaska's total salmon value was chums," McDowell said. A record chum catch of 24.7 million fish is projected for Alaska this year.

Coho salmon was a sleeper that really woke up last year. The statewide average price was nearly $1 a pound, not including bonuses. In Southeast Alaska, troll caught cohos fetched a record $2.85 per pound.

Fewer Alaska pink salmon are ending up in cans, going instead into pricier frozen fillets. Ten years ago, 80 percent of the pink catch would be canned; now it's closer to a 50-50 split for canned and frozen pinks.

Pink salmon are not expected to pull another no-show in 2007, as they did in major Alaska regions last year, notably Southeast. Pink salmon have a two-year life span and return in odd-even year cycles of run strength.

"The parent year for the 2007 pink return was 2005, which was the largest pink salmon harvest on record at 161 million fish," McDowell said.

For the past 20 years, on odd- numbered years the pink salmon catch has been 23 percent over projections. If that holds true, the Alaska catch could top 130 million pinks in 2007, McDowell said.

Another big harvest could be a mixed blessing for Alaska's money fish -- sockeye salmon. "Half to two-thirds of the total dockside value is from sockeye, and we haven't seen a whole lot of movement in the past year or two," McDowell said.

Last year 70 percent of Alaska's sockeye catch of roughly 40 million came from Bristol Bay, where prices remained in the 55-cents-per-pound range. The sockeye were smaller than usual, making them less suitable for fillet production. That meant the bulk of the Bay's red salmon went into cans in an already-crowded market.

"It appears we're entering into a time of oversupply for the canned sockeye market. And with high production coming from Bristol Bay, we're looking at a pretty significant canned pack again," McDowell said.

Alaska king salmon prices continue to reflect the lack of availability of fish from Pacific coast fisheries, closed for conservation concerns. The average dock price last year was almost $2.80 a pound, the highest price in 25 years. Southeast trollers fetched $9.20 a pound for winter kings last week.

"In terms of the price for king salmon, this is 'the good old days' right now," said McDowell.

State fish forecasters are predicting an Alaska salmon catch of 179 million fish this year, up 21.2 percent from the 2006 harvest of 141 million salmon.

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