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Southeast pink salmon price low, harvest low

 

Data from ADFG; Graphic created by Mary Koppes

The Southeast pink salmon harvest is coming in well below projections and below last year's numbers and the five-year average. ADFG estimated a harvest of 58 million pinks, which has since been adjusted to 30-35 million based on weekly catch rates.

Of an estimated 58 million pink salmon harvest for 2015, so far seiners have netted less than half that, some 26 million by the end of last week.

"We are not even coming close (to projections)," explained Dan Gray, Alaska Department of Fish and Game management coordinator for Southeast fisheries in Sitka. He estimated that the season will end with a harvest of 30 to 35 million pinks, and recent weekly catch trends indicate that the season is past its peak.

"It's dying fast," an industry expert said last week. "The graph looks just perfect; it went up and went down. It's just a small bell curve that didn't go very high."

A number of factors go into ADFG harvest projections, including past averages and parent year harvest numbers. This year's returning pinks are the off-spring of the unprecedented 95 million pink salmon harvest of 2013. That anomalously high harvest led to a more conservative projection by ADFG, formulated using even-year and odd-year data in their trend analysis for 2015. That led some in the industry to predict a harvest as high as 70 to 100 million.

While that hasn't happened in Southeast, the Prince William Sound pink harvest is hitting those numbers, despite a modest forecast of 45 million.

"Prince William Sound got their fish, double," the expert said. "They're at 85 million and climbing."

That's spelled trouble for overall pink prices in the market. A glut of pinks this year, plus an oversupply from the last two years, has caused prices to plummet. The base price for pinks this year is between 18 and 20 cents per pound, down from 42 cents two years ago.

Allan Mathisen / Submitted Photo

FV Marathon seine crew, Allan Mathisen, Jessie Agner, Alex Jahn, and Tor Bensen, got a bird's eye portrait while they work thanks to Mathisen hanging a GoPro off the boom tip winch.

In addition to the large supply driving prices down, unfavorable exchange rates in Europe and Japan-two leading consumers of Alaskan salmon and roe-have also had a downward affect on prices.

The high value of the dollar and low value of the ruble in Russia is also giving the Alaska salmon competitor an advantage in the market. Russian-caught salmon is being marketed to the same consumers, but they're able to sell at a lower price. Meanwhile, the Russian trade embargo against the U.S. means one fewer market for Alaskan fish.

"It's just been a horrible situation in terms of world trade," the industry expert said.

Back at home, it remains a mystery why the pinks haven't returned in the predicted numbers. Gray said water conditions may play a role.

"From the time we got the forecast we were kind of cautioned about the warm water in the Gulf of Alaska," Gray explained. "We're not really certain what that does to their food supplies either," he said.

 

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