The famed Copper River district salmon fishery is running well ahead of forecast and as of June 10 appeared to be likely to have a robust regular commercial fishing schedule, with openers twice weekly averaging 24 to 36 hours, state biologists said.
“We were way ahead of the forecast (for sockeyes) for the first three openers,” said Jeremy Botz, the state Department of Fish and Game’s gillnet area management biologist at Cordova.
The projected harvest for the first three 12-hour openers, the last of which was May 28, was 410,000 sockeye and 8,000 Chinook salmon. The preliminary estimate on the actual harvest is 586,000 reds and 5,400 kings, plus some 7,000 chums. Except for the first period, weather conditions have been favorable for the fleet and the fourth opener on June 10 was under sunny skies with temperatures near 60 degrees.
Statewide, as of June 10, the preliminary cumulative statistics show a harvest of 1,250,000 salmon of all species, including some 600,000 reds, 607,000 chum, 43,000 kings and fewer than 1,000 silver and pink salmon respectively.
Beginning this season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is updating the harvest estimates nightly, and posting them online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov.
Beyond the Copper River district in Prince William Sound, which opened on May 16, the Coghill and Montague district drift fisheries opened on May 27. In the Coghill district, the preliminary harvest totals are fewer than 1,000 kings, some 241,000 chum and fewer than 1,000 sockeyes. While in the Montague district, harvesters have netted fewer than 1,000 kings and some 3,000 chums. The general seine area of Prince William Sound has recorded a catch of fewer than 1,000 kings, some 7,000 chums and fewer than 1,000 reds.
The commercial fishery in Upper Cook Inlet has begun, with a cumulative harvest of fewer than 1,000 Chinook salmon. The Bristol Bay fisheries opened June 3 for Egegik, the Naknek-Kvichak and Ugashik, with no reported harvests through June 6.
In Southeast Alaska, the harvest of king salmon stood at some 36,000 Chinooks. The westward and Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region fisheries have not yet opened.
In Seattle’s famed Pike Place Fish Market, whole fresh Copper River king salmon are selling for $29.99 a pound and fresh Copper River king fillets for $43.99 a pound. Whole fresh Copper River sockeyes are $64.95 per fish and fresh Copper River sockeye fillets are $21.99 a pound. In Anchorage, FishEx is offering fresh Copper River sockeye fillets for $25.95 a pound and fresh Copper River king fillets for $38.95 a pound.
As usual with the Copper River fish, it was a case of first come first served, and they were going fast, keeping fishmongers very busy.
Prices have come down a bit with some, but not all, online retailers since the celebrated annual opener of the Copper River fishery. On May 29, 10th and M Seafoods in Anchorage was retailing whole kings for $26.95 a pound and king fillets for $32.95 a pound, and sockeyes were priced at $7.95 a pound for whole fish and $11.95 a pound for fillets. Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle meanwhile was offering whole Copper River kings for $35.99 a pound, king fillets for $35.99 a pound, whole Copper River sockeyes at $94.95 each and fillets for $28.99 a pound.
First of the season Copper River wild salmon were greeted with gusto in Seattle on May 17, with the Copper Chef Cook-off on the tarmac at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, after delivery of sockeye and king salmon from three seafood processors: Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods. Pilots from Alaska Airlines carried a large king salmon provided by Ocean Beauty Seafoods for the cook-off down the red carpet after their jet landed.
In Anchorage May 16, Copper River Seafoods celebrated the start of the season with a gala of its own at the Bridge Seafood Restaurant, but had to serve up gourmet entrees of last year’s salmon when weather delayed the arrival of fresh fish.
Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods, was undeterred, noting that the demand for Copper River salmon is strong, with increasing interest from retail customers who want to know who is harvesting the fish they eat. With increased customer demand for frozen meal solutions, the company is also focusing on more new products in that line, he said.
About this time every year, the big question on the minds of commercial harvesters is what price per pound they will get for their investment of time and effort in Alaska’s commercial wild salmon fishery. The only certainty is that in 2013, as in other years, the price will depend on the exchange rate on the Japanese yen and the Euro, the harvest of other wild fish producers, particularly in Russia and Japan, and the shape of farmed salmon markets. People need to be aware of what’s happening with farmed salmon prices, how much canned salmon is carried over from last year’s harvest, and the elusive general mood of people in the market, said Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research. Everyone always tries to manipulate expectations, he said.
If people think the demand for salmon is strong they are willing to pay a good price, but it people think it’s weak, processors may say they had better take a deal while they can get it. “That’s the game everyone always plays,” he said.
In his analysis of Alaska salmon values in a recent salmon market bulletin for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Andy Wink of the McDowell Group in Juneau noted that in the case of troll-caught Chinook salmon, fishermen receive a large share of the retail value, offset by trollers’ low production volume.
In the case of frozen Bristol Bay sockeye fillets, fishermen received 40 percent to 50 percent of the first wholesale value, and with tall canned pink salmon, fishermen receive a smaller share of the retail value, but that is offset by seiners’ high production volume.
Distributors ship, store, sell and occasionally process fish before selling to retailers or restaurants. Sometimes these are independent companies and sometimes the processor or retailer maintains their own distribution business, Wink noted.
Regardless of whether salmon are sold directly from a processor to a retailer or whether they are sold to distributors, all salmon products incur distribution costs and distributor mark-ups can range from pennies per pound to over a dollar per pound, depending on the product, he said.