SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

King salmon crunch
By Laine Welch


April 14, 2008

Chinook salmon lovers will face huge shortages due to big cut backs in catches. West Coast fisheries have been called off; and, driven by abundance based dictates of the U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty, chinook catches in Southeast Alaska will be cut in half to just 170,000 fish. Southeast hatcheries will add an additional 20,000-40,000 kings to the harvest

"We dropped below a million kings for the entire North American harvest last year, so it will be interesting again this year," said market analyst Chris McDowell of the Juneau-based McDowell Group.

There are three major king salmon fisheries in North America: the west coast states of Washington, Oregon and California, B.C. Canada and all the Alaska fisheries combined.

King salmon harvests topped two million fish just a few years ago and built a huge following by upscale retailers and restaurants. When the fish started to get scarce in 2006, demand pushed dock prices for Alaska troll caught winter kings to $10 a pound.

"Part of what drove the prices so high for us in 2006 and 07 was a good deal of unmet demand from all of these strong harvests in the earlier part of the decade. The problem with unmet demand is that it only goes unmet for so long before it goes somewhere else," McDowell said.

High end markets will always pay top prices for winter kings ­ which last week were retailing at $32.95 a pound in Seattle and $26 in Juneau.

"It's really impressive, but that only represents 10,000 fish for the entire winter starting in October. It doesn't reflect the broader market," McDowell said. "The real question is what the price will be in June and July. That's when we produce nearly all of our volumes for kings."

King salmon from Bristol Bay could make up some of the unmet demand in the market. A catch of 85,000 king salmon is projected at Bristol Bay this year.

"The question is - is there enough market interest for buyers to come in and pay a price that is sufficient to generate more fishing effort? McDowell said.

Bristol Bay fishermen averaged 54 cents a pound for king salmon in 2007. Only Norton Sound was lower at 53 cents.

The average statewide king salmon price for 2007 was $2.68 per pound. Although Chinook salmon represent between 1% - 1.5% of Alaska's total salmon harvest, the fish provide six to eight percent of the value. Last year's catch of 526,000 king salmon weighed in at 8.6 million pounds, and was worth $23 million at the Alaska docks.

Wild Alaska salmon is 'what's for dinner' for America's babies!

Look for jars of Sweet Potatoes and Wild Alaska salmon on U.S. supermarket shelves this month! The salmon item is one of 17 'never before' baby foods and beverages being launched by Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. The new line emphasizes different ingredients based on the time of day the meals are fed to children.

"There's been a lot of surprise over salmon in baby food, but the response has all been positive. I think it's time has come, finally," said Bob Harvey, director of Research and Development at Beech-nut's manufacturing plant in Canajoharie, NY, where it has operated for more than 75 years.

Harvey pushed the idea of a sweet potato/salmon blend at Beech-nut nearly 20 years ago, but "couldn't get it past the marketing folks." Similarly, past attempts by Gerber to use fish in U.S. baby foods failed to make it past the "gate keepers," meaning mostly mid-west parents, said former spokesperson Nancy Lindner. That bias has long been reflected in America's baby food aisles, where you'll find wide assortments of beef, pork, and chicken products, but no fish of any kind.

Today omega 3 fatty acids from fish are widely accepted as important parts of a healthy diet, Harvey said. For babies especially, omega's support brain and eye development, and fish as a lean protein promotes good digestion.

"This new baby food means they'll get the right omega-3 fats and all the health benefits of eating sustainable, wild caught Alaska seafood," said Laura Fleming of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

"Beech-Nut took the big step forward as the major manufacturer in putting it out there," said Bob Pawlowski, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation.

AFDF in partnership with University of Alaska Fish Tech/Kodiak has championed the salmon baby food project for about four years. The project received $460,000 in U.S. Dept. of Agriculture funds aimed at developing alternative uses for Alaska salmon.

Beech-Nut's new parent company ­ Hero Group of Switzerland ­ has a line of baby seafoods in Europe, and was quick to make the Alaska connection.

The new baby food uses Alaska pink salmon processed to Beech-Nut's strict specifications by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. The boneless/skinless pinks are minced, frozen into blocks and sent to Beech-Nut where the salmon is blended into the final product.

"This is a superb example of the creative new Alaska seafood products being developed to meet the needs of today's time-pressed, health-conscious consumers, particularly families with young children, " said ASMI's Fleming.

If America's babies get hooked on wild salmon, Bob Harvey said Beech-Nut will likely add to the catch.

"If the salmon is successful, I imagine we'll add at least one, maybe three or four more fish products," Harvey said

Beech-Nut has baby food products at 66% of America's grocery stores and hopes to expand to 80 to 90 percent with its new product lines, said vice president of marketing Dennis Warner. Get more information at .


Kodiak-based Laine Welch has been reporting news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and radio for 20 years. Fish Factor appears in 15 newspapers and websites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on more than 25 stations across Alaska.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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