SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

For seafood, world currencies are topsy turvy


May 24, 2010

Alaska seafood competes in a tough global market, and currency values in other countries play a big role in customer sales. Whether it is fish or timber, oil or minerals, people around the world are producing competing products, and aggressively selling into the same markets as Alaska. And for seafood, world currencies are topsy turvy from one year ago.

"In a nutshell, the recent changes in currencies have been bad news if you are exporting to Europe, and good news if you're exporting to Japan," said Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist at the University of Alaska/Anchorage. "The whole world economy is so inter-connected, and the major uncertainty across all of Europe is affecting the value of the Euro relative to our dollar. It doesn't seem fair or rational that would affect what Alaska seafood sells for and the prices Alaska fishermen get, but it actually does work that way."

The value of the Euro to the dollar has dropped 10% since November, and it now takes 1.25 Euros to equal one U.S. dollar. Europe is an important export market for Alaska salmon products, pollock fillets, and cod.

"The decline will affect what European markets are willing or able to pay, so that could have a negative consequence for those particular fishery products," Knapp said.

It is still too soon to really know what the impacts are, said Ray Riutta, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

"Clearly, everyone is concerned as the Euro goes down and our products become more expensive. It certainly will affect sales," Riutta said.

On the other hand the currency for Alaska's biggest seafood customer - Japan - has gotten stronger, at 90 yen to the dollar.

'The purchasing power of the yen has been strengthening for the past year. That would tend to help products we are shipping to Japan," Knapp said, including salmon, sablefish, crab and roe products.

"There's an old adage that fish follows the money, so I suspect if Japan currency stays strong , we will see a bit of a shift from some European sales to Japan. But it's too early to speculate," Riutta added, referring to many sales for canned and frozen products that won't be finalized until year's end.

Even though the yen/dollar exchange rates are stronger, the Japanese economy is struggling so they might not want to buy as much, Knapp cautioned. And other factors come into play that affect seafood markets, notably, supplies from competitors.

Both seafood experts agreed that all signs point to a good salmon market this year.

"The U.S. markets for salmon, especially for sockeye, have really looked good going into this year," Knapp said. "A major driving factor is the supply of farmed salmon is way down due to ongoing disease problems in Chile. That is pushing up prices for all salmon, as is continued market development by Alaska wild salmon producers. They have created good products and worked hard to get them into the U.S market and it's working out well."

What an Alaska fish processor can pay fishermen is limited by two basic things: what processors can sell their products for, and what their costs are. And those place an upper limit on what they are going to be able to afford to pay fishermen, Knapp explained.

He said things to watch this summer include salmon supplies from Russia, exchange rates and how they affect what processors get paid for their salmon products, and what happens with Alaska's salmon supply.

"As always," he said, "the most likely thing to expect is surprises."

Slow roe

Alaska's largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay was wrapping up late last week, after a slow start. The first opener was May 11 but bad weather put a damper on landings for nearly a week. The 26,000 ton catch quota is split 70/30 between seiners and gillnetters. The herring, which is valued for its roe, yielded counts topping 10%, the industry standard. No word yet on price, but negotiations with Japanese buyers really heat up after the Togiak catch is tallied. reported that at least one major U.S. packer wants $1,000 per ton for Sitka roe herring. Alaska's total roe herring harvest projection this year is up considerably to nearly 62,000 tons, an increase of 20,000 tons from last year. The 2009 catch was valued at over $17 million at the docks.

From deck to dancing

Captain Sig Hansen of "Deadliest Catch" fame aims to take his sea legs to another TV reality show - Dancing with the Stars. Over 15,000 signatures are on Sig's Facebook fan page trying to help him get on the hit show.

The Northwestern skipper took his pitch last week to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where he got a dance lesson from a professional.

"When you're used to being your own boss and all of a sudden you've got this little girl telling you what to do, it's not an easy pill to swallow," Sig quipped.

He can cut a rug, according to the instructor who said: "Sig is a really smart guy, actually, and he picked up the steps quickly and really well, and his hip action was brilliant."

Sig who has been described as 'tough but lovable' said he does not take criticism well, and joked that if Bruno (a DWTS judge) came after him, he would probably put him in a strangle hold.

Tasty trends

The top culinary development firm for U.S. restaurants and food service points to several emerging trends for seafood. San Francisco one biggie is raw seafood, beyond sushi .

"Other raw or lightly cooked forms have really come on, like crudos (Italian for raw) and ceviches, and those are starting to spread down to the chains in more meaningful ways," Aaron Noveshen of the Culinary Edge told SeafoodSource News. "We're starting to see burger places serving ahi tuna burgers, and the tuna melt of today is seared raw ahi with muenster cheese and things like that,"

Other trends gaining steam - whole fish and shellfish, seafood tacos, and whole pot seafood cooks.

"People are eating more meals of multiple types of seafood A lot of the big chains like Joe's Crab Shack and Legal Seafoods are doing really great lobster bakes and shellfish complete meal items," Noveshen said.

Even more in vogue: using sustainable seafood. Noveshen said "with people being able to dig in and find out information instantly about your restaurant and what you serve, you really need to be up front and honest with customers."

Fish biz buy

Harbor Crown Seafoods in Unalaska/ Dutch Harbor is up for sale. It features over 55,000 square feet of space spread out over five buildings on seven acres, a fully equipped processing plant, a boat dock, bunkhouse and a boat lift. Sealed bids must be submitted by June 15 to Bob Martin at Ravenwood Real Estate in Eagle River. 907-229-8681


This weekly column focusing on Alaska's seafood industry began in 1991, and it now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A spin off - Fish Radio - airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic and social importance of Alaska's fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. Happy New Year and thanks for your continued support of fishing news!

Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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