Salmon roe prices sink in Japan after 3 year highs

Salmon roe prices have fallen hard after three years of record highs.

by | December 28, 2023

Filed Under Markets | Processors | Salmon | Trade

Prices down by half on record imports of roe to Japan from Russia

Alaska salmon buyers blamed this year’s record low prices on large carryovers of sockeyes from the 2022 record haul at Bristol Bay and huge catches of competing salmon from Russia. In early August, Trident called Alaska’s chum markets “collapsed” and put fishermen on notice that the statewide price would be just 20-cents.

It’s quite a different picture from the past three years salmon roe fetched record prices. For pink salmon, as an example, frozen roe prices in 2022 were nearly $14 per pound, an increase of $2 per pound every year since 2019.

Pink salmon roe, also called caviar and ikura

It’s quite a different picture from the past three years when salmon roe fetched record prices. For pink salmon, as an example, first wholesale frozen roe prices in 2022 were nearly $14 per pound, an increase of $2 per pound every year since 2019. Alaska fishermen received 39 cents per pound on average for their pinks in 2022.

For sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay, the first wholesale price for frozen roe (also called ikura or caviar) was $7.39 per pound and $4.24 for sujiko (eggs still in their casing). Fishermen averaged $1.15 per pound for their reds.

Read more on roe pricing and see Trident’s letter in this August write up called “What about that salmon roe, bro?”

What a difference a year makes …

By Tom Asakawa/SeafoodNews.com
December 22, 2023

Due to the bumper catches of pink salmon and sockeye salmon from Russia and Alaska, frozen salmon roe are being shipped smoothly. From May, when they started the new production to October, import volume from Russia exceeded the previous year, and the U.S. increased by 20%.

Import prices for Russian and U.S. products have been reduced to less than half of last year’s prices, according to a report by Suisan Keizai Shimbun.

The delivery of pink salmon roe from Russia, the principal species, has been accelerated. As of October, it has slightly exceeded last year’s results, which plummeted due to a poor return year. Increased local production and a shortage of salmon roe in Japan means that imports are expected to continue steadily.

Russia has produced over 22,000 tons of salmon roe this summer, setting a new record, surpassing 21,000 tons in 2021. Japan’s import volume for the 2021 season ended up with 11,350 tons.

And although the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery was not as good as last year, it eventually reached 40 million fish. There is no concern about the supply, as the pink salmon fishery in Prince William Sound and the Southeastern has exceeded 100 million fish, similar to the excellent fishing year two years ago. The delivery has been accelerated over last year’s pace.

Skeins of sockeye salmon eggs Credit: Loki Fish Company

However, purchasing prices for both countries’ products have fallen significantly, and the unusually high prices that lasted three years have finally subsided. The CIF price for the Russian products from May to October was 2,778 yen/kg ($19.52/kg), almost half the price. The average price is still pushed up because it includes high-priced products from the previous season, but the unit price has remained at less than half since September, when the switch to new production was evident.

Similarly, for the U.S. products, in which sockeye salmon roe dominates, the average price so far has been 1,575 yen/kg ($11.07/kg), half of last year’s price. A comparison with October alone, which exceeded 4,000 yen/kg ($28.12/kg) last year, suggests a decline of nearly 60%.

Bristol Bay roe – and other regions – one year ago

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.

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.

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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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