Globally, salmon supplies down, demand extremely strong
April 30, 2011
“The only sure thing is that there will be some surprises, but for most salmon species the market conditions should be as good as or better than last year,” said Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist at the University of Alaska/Anchorage.
As a reminder – last year’s Alaska salmon catch of 171 million fish was valued at $534 million at the docks, the best showing in 18 years. State managers predict a catch of nearly 204 million salmon this year, which would be the fifth largest salmon harvest on record. The boost stems from a projected pink catch topping 133 million fish, about 25% higher than last year. (Knapp cautions that might lower pink salmon prices somewhat if the harvest comes in on target.)
Globally, salmon supplies are down while demand is extremely strong, Knapp said.
“And that includes farmed salmon,” he added. “But because there is a lot of preference for wild salmon in some markets, the outlook is really good, particularly in Europe and Japan, and even Russia.”
Knapp said currency exchange rates also are favorable for Alaska seafood sales to foreign customers. The U.S. dollar has been softening relative to other currencies, and that is good news for people selling to foreign countries, including Japan and Europe.
“The thing that is really driving the salmon demand is not so much the US market, although that is important, it is demand coming from overseas markets,” Knapp explained.
Japan is Alaska’s largest seafood customer and Knapp said the devastation caused to that country’s fishing, processing and cold storage sectors by the recent earthquake and tsunami could have positive and negative aspects from a seafood trade perspective.
Japan is the largest chum salmon producer in the world and with extensive damage to its production and processing potential, they will likely be looking elsewhere for chum salmon and roe to fill supply shortfalls.
“For chums and to a certain extent sockeye we could see a strengthening in the market due to the damage that was done to our competitors in Japan,” Knapp said.
“On the other hand, Japan is also a very significant buyer and there have been disruptions to their economy and the physical capacity to process and transport fish. So that could have a negative effect on the demand side,” he added. “But overall I think that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan is not likely to hurt the Alaska salmon market that much, and may help it in certain ways.”
Buyers and sellers from Japan were on hand in good numbers at the world’s biggest seafood trade show earlier this month in Brussels, said market analyst John Sackton.
“I think the Japanese seafood market is coming back very strongly, and the demand for products like salmon is really quite strong,” Sackton said. “The earthquake and tsunami had a huge, devastating impact on where it hit, and it will take a long time to recover. But it is important to know that the entire country is not in that situation. There is a lot of business activity going on right now, and a lot of seafood trade.”
Sackton said the mood at the Brussels show was ‘very upbeat.”
“It was a seller’s show,” he added. “A lot of seafood products are still in short supply, and buyers are anxious to secure contracts and line up commitments. It gives sellers a good hand in terms of pricing and market. The outlook for salmon is really good.”
One of the biggest attractions at the Brussels show was king crab, mostly from Norway and Russia.
“They don’t sell much Alaska crab into Europe because it is so much cheaper to get it from Russia or Norway and the Barents Sea due to shipping costs,” said Jake Jacobsen, veteran Bering Sea crabber and director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group.
“I was surprised to see that so many booths displayed king crab in their graphics and posters, even thought they might not sell it. They’d draw you in and then try to sell you sardines or something,” Jacobsen said of his first visit to the Brussels show.
“The king crab really attracted a lot of attention. One person said it looked like something out of Star Wars. A lot of people hadn’t seen king crab before and they were fascinated by it,” he added.
Despite the draw at the seafood show, Jacobsen said king and snow crab are seldom seen on European restaurant menus. He sees that as a good expansion opportunity for Alaska.
“Hopefully, restaurants will add it to the menu and it will become a force over there,” he said.
Sourcing seafood from healthy fisheries is extremely important to European buyers, and Jacobsen said every booth had the word ‘sustainable’ emblazoned on it. Referring to Russian fleets that are notorious for poaching king crab, he added: “Anyone can write it on their booth and everybody did. It kind of cheapens the use of the word.”
Jacobsen agreed the mood at the Brussels show was very upbeat.
“People are realizing that seafood prices are higher and they are going to be maintained at a higher level. There was a lot of interest and activity,” he said.
Waypoints has way more
Alaska Waypoints is a catchy new web site that brings a clearinghouse of news and info-tainment to the fishing fleets.
“Instead of visiting five or six different web sites on all the different aspects of the industry, we bring it all altogether in one convenient place. We are trying to give fishermen a one stop shop to find the latest information and news that is relevant and useful to their work,” said Scott Coughlin, Waypoints editor and a lifelong fisherman on waters from Southeast Alaska to Norton Sound.
Alaska Waypoints includes local weather maps, a fishing jobs center, an instant ‘tweet the fleet’ hash tag, and an ‘open channel’ for blogs, columns, poetry and videos.
“I wanted to provide a place for individual fishermen and women to tell their stories,” Coughlin said. “There are people all over this crazy industry who are smart and creative and have unique perspectives. Alaska Waypoints is a place where they can communicate and share what they have to say. We really want to highlight the fishing industry’s personality.”
Ultimately, Coughlin said Waypoints can help spread the word about Alaska’s good fishery stewardship.
“Alaska stands as an national and international example and it does a lot of things very well when it comes to its fisheries,” he said. “Especially with things like sustainability – Alaska has been there the whole time.” www.alaskawaypoints.com
This year marks the 21st year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world.