What about that salmon roe, bro?

How does the increasing price for salmon roe factor into fishermen's paychecks?

by | August 8, 2023

Roe = 40% of the wholesale value of AK total chum harvest, almost 24% for pinks

Alaska salmon buyers are blaming this year’s record low salmon prices on large carryovers of sockeyes from last year’s record haul at Bristol Bay and huge hauls of pinks from Russia. Chum markets also are said to have “collapsed” and those fish will fetch a base price of just 20-cents.

The 50 cents per pound offered by Alaska buyers/processors for sockeyes, when adjusted for inflation, is the lowest price listed in the Alaska  Department of Fish and Game’s online records, which began in 1984.  No price has been posted yet by major buyers for pink salmon. [The PMC referenced in the Trident letter stands for Pale Meat Color.]

And yet…recent roe prices have skyrocketed

Salmon roe is where the big money is now, according to reports by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

For pink salmon, roe prices in 2022 were nearly $14 per pound, an increase of $2 per pound every year since 2019.

In 2020 and 2021, almost one quarter of the wholesale value of Alaska’s pink salmon pack was derived from roe which goes primarily to Japan and Eastern Europe.

Alaska fishermen received 39 cents per pound on average for their pinks in 2022.

Roe also rules for chums

Roe also rules the day for Alaska chum salmon (keta), adding up to nearly 40% of the wholesale value of the entire harvest.

“Roe makes up a larger portion of the total chum species value (39%) than for any other salmon species in Alaska. In 2023, Alaska keta roe wholesale prices averaged $23.75 per pound,” an ASMI bulletin said, adding that it goes primarily to Japan.

Alaska fishermen were paid $1.08 per pound for chums on average last year.

More salmon price insights from COAR data

Each year the first buyers of raw fish in Alaska are required to file a report of their purchasing and processing activities. It is called the Commercial Operator’s Annual Report, or COAR, and is due by April 1 of the following year. NOAA Fisheries also requires COAR reports from processing vessels operating in federal waters (three to 200 miles offshore).

The COAR reports contain easy to read data on seafood purchasing, production, and both exvessel and wholesale values of fresh, frozen and “other” product forms for every species caught and bought in Alaska.

Bristol Bay roe – and other regions – one year ago

Data from 2022 show that Alaska processors received first wholesale prices of $7.39 per pound for frozen Bristol Bay sockeye roe (also called ikura or caviar) and $4.74 per pound for sockeye sujiko (eggs still in their casing). In the “other” category, the sockeye sujiko price is listed at $8.59 per pound.

Bristol Bay frozen chum roe fetched a much higher price: $16.29 per pound and $7.39 per pound for sujiko.

COAR buying also shows average first wholesale prices for other Bristol Bay product forms – fillets with skin and ribs, fillets with skin and no ribs, and headed and gutted salmon.

At Southeast Alaska last year, processors received a whopping $34.47 per pound for frozen chum salmon roe (ikura) at first wholesale and $18.14 per pound for pink salmon roe.

Along with roe, the Southeast COAR data lists first wholesale prices for 14 different product forms including belly flaps (meat), fillets with or without skin and ribs, milt, minced fish, pectoral girdle, roe bait, whole bait, gutted only, headed and gutted and whole fish/food fish.

Kodiak processors in 2022 received first wholesale prices of $17.25 per pound for frozen chum roe, $6.01 for coho roe, $13.19 for pink salmon roe and $3.87 per pound for sockeye roe.

At Cook Inlet in 2022, frozen chum salmon roe paid out at $26.04 per pound for processors at first wholesale. Coho roe was priced at $7.82; $11.35 for pink roe and sockeye roe at $11.23 per pound.

Interestingly, COAR prices at many Alaska fishing regions show different pricing under the “frozen” and “other” listings for the same roe products. And many COAR listings are woefully outdated.

At Prince William Sound, for example, first wholesale prices from 2021 show frozen chum roe at $22.33 per pound, pink salmon roe at $10.53 and sockeye roe at $6.31.

But the “other” category shows PWS processors fetching $25.82 per pound and pink roe at a whopping $27.31 per pound!

The most recent price listings for the Kuskokwim are from 1990 and from 2017 for the Yukon. Neither region has COAR pricing for salmon roe, nor does Chignik or the Alaska Peninsula. Norton Sound and Kotzebue are not even included in the COAR buying data.

In 2022, only sockeye salmon exports increased in value

Trade data from NOAA Fisheries show huge declines in exports of US salmon to other countries.

 Undercurrent News reports that the US exported roughly 33,918 metric tons of chum salmon in 2022 (74.6 million pounds), down 86% year-on-year. Additionally, the export value of the chum salmon was $99.4 million, a drop of 98%.

US exports of coho salmon declined by 42% in 2022 to 3,062 metric tons (6.73 million pounds), down 42%. The value of the exported coho salmon at $15.7 million was down by 33% from 2021.

Pink salmon exports also took a big dive. The US exported 60,824 metric tons of pinks (nearly 134 million pounds), a drop of 28% year over year. The value of $245.99 million reflected a 14% decline.

US sockeye salmon exports and values increased

Sockeye salmon reversed the downward trend and exports in 2022 increased by 23% to 58,317 metric tons (nearly 128.3 million pounds). The value of the sockeyes also increased to an export value of $505.2 million, also a 23% increase over 2021.

Tagged as:

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.


You May Also Like

Pin It on Pinterest