Low sockeye price at Bristol Bay stuns fishermen

Big carryovers of unsold fish from last year's record sockeye haul are blamed for the price drop.

by | July 18, 2023

Filed Under Catch Updates | Prices | Salmon

Base price dropped 56% from the 2022 fishery

Fishermen at the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay are reeling from news that they will receive a base price of 50-cents a pound from major buyers this season, a 56% cut from the $1.15 they received in 2022.

That includes nearly 2,000 permit holders plus crews who head to the Bay’s six river systems each summer for sockeyes, the “big money” fish which typically comprise up to two-thirds of the total value of Alaska’s salmon fishery every year.

The trade publication Intrafish was first to report that Trident Seafoods made the price announcement to the Bay fishing fleet on July 16.

The price was quickly matched by North Pacific Seafoods. Peter Pan Seafood then sweetened the deal with a 20 cent “late season” bonus for those fishing beyond July 18, plus handling incentives of up to 30 cents for chilling or bleeding their salmon. That could push the final sockeye price to 80-cents a pound.

The dramatic price drop was not unexpected.  

For months news circulated widely about a glut of sockeye salmon held over from last year’s record Bristol Bay harvest of 60 million reds, double the 20 year average, and valued at more than $350 million to fishermen.

But the fish hit markets in the U.S. and abroad at a time of high food inflation costs and low demand.  That had Alaska processors scrambling to unload inventories at sharply reduced prices prior to the start of the 2023 fishery.

“The costs of carrying the massive amount of salmon in cold storage warehouses and weak consumer demand have strained the finances of several Alaska salmon processors,” Intrafish reported.

That was little consolation for Justin Arnold, a third generation fisherman at Bristol Bay who called for more transparency from local buyers.

“We are treated like a partner with these companies, but we have no information,” he told KDLG in Dillingham. “I can get more information on a publicly traded company that I have no stock in, then I can get on a company that essentially we don’t know what we’re going to make till after the season. We still don’t know if we’re going to get a retro for last season. So we’re almost a year in, and we’re still waiting to know what we’ll make for last year’s fish. It’s not a sustainable way to do business.”   

Market tracker Urner-Barry, which has provided in depth coverage of all major center-of-the-plate proteins since 1858,  showed a 22% decline for 4-6 pound sockeye salmon compared to the same time last year, according to analysts at Seafoodnews.com. Current quotations are also 23% lower than the 5-year average. 

Fishery managers indicated this week that the Bristol Bay sockeye catch is on track to come in close to the projected 37.8 million fish. As of July 18, the catch totaled nearly 34.5 million reds.

Statewide, the Alaska sockeye salmon harvest is pegged at just over 48 million fish, compared to nearly 75 million taken in 2022.  Some believe the lower volume could act as a correction to the large inventories still being carried over from last year.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.


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