SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Extra cash, Bye to 'but, Famous salmon becomes compost,
& Smart Gear winners

By Laine Welch


November 19, 2007
Monday AM

Alaska fishermen could be getting some nice retro payments for their 2007 salmon catches. The prices advanced this summer at the docks were for the most part disappointing, but fishermen who receive bonuses based on salmon sales should soon see some extra cash.

Sales of Alaska salmon are tracked according to categories, such as fresh or frozen, fillets, roe and canned. Total May through August sales of all Alaska salmon were $380 million, up nine percent from last year ($347 million), according to the 2007 Alaska Salmon Price Report by the Dept. of Revenue.

The sales value of fresh Alaska salmon (headed/gutted) increased 22 percent to $81 million. The value of salmon roe jumped from $46 million to $61 million, a 32 percent increase. For salmon fillets (fresh and frozen), the sales value jumped 50 percent, from $26 million to $39 million.

The only salmon item that declined in value is canned reds and pinks, which make up the bulk of Alaska's total harvest. Canned salmon values dropped 20 percent from $72 million to $58 million..

The sales season for canned salmon starts in September, and the 2007 pack went into a plugged market. Stacks in warehouses of nearly 1.6 million cases of canned sockeye (48 talls) is believed to be the largest inventory in 20 years, said the ASMI Seafood Market Bulletin.

The Bulletin said 62 percent of Bristol Bay's 30 million sockeye catch went into cans this summer . An even larger harvest is projected there in 2008, meaning the canned red salmon market will be oversupplied for some time. Some relief could come from the weakened value of the U.S. dollar against other currencies, notably Europe and Great Britain where canned sockeye is extremely popular.

Canned pinks are also facing an oversupply in the market. Alaska processors put up 3.6 million cases of pink salmon this summer from 143 million fish, the third largest catch on record. Relief could come from lower pink salmon catches projected for 2008. Also, the shift by Alaska seafood processors away from cans to pricier frozen forms is here to stay. The ASMI Bulletin said 50 percent of the 2007 pink salmon catch went into cans, down from 64 percent just three years ago.

Bye to 'but

Alaska's 2007 halibut fishery ended on Nov. 15 and it looks like fishermen hauled in nearly all of the 50 million pounds allowed in this year's catch limit. Fishermen also hauled in unheard of halibut prices, topping $5 a pound in most major ports.

Here's a sampler: at Kodiak halibut prices ranged from $4.50 to $5 per pound. At Homer, where access to a road system serves to sweeten the price, halibut was fetching $5.00 to $5.50/lb. (An increase of more than 50 cents since September.) Halibut prices at Dutch Harbor ticked steadily upward to close the season at $4.25 to $ 4.75. And fresh halibut was "flying off the docks" in Southeast Alaska, where dock prices were reported at $5.10 to $5.45 per pound.

Homer retains the title as the nation's #1 halibut port, with 20 percent of the total catch crossing those docks. That's followed by Kodiak, Seward, Sitka and Dutch Harbor.

Fishery managers will announce the 2008 halibut catch numbers in mid January. The Alaska halibut fishery will reopen in early March.

Famous salmon becomes compost

A project that turns the waste products of famous Copper River salmon into compost won a $30,000 entrepreneurial award at the Alaska Federation of Natives 'Alaska Marketplace' competition.

The money will be used to buy a tractor or fork lift and more hoppers to hold all the fish scraps, said Kristin Smith, director of the Copper River Watershed Project which operates the compost venture.

"We have basically been a hand labor operation. We've been slinging fish heads into this big cannery steamer cooker," she said.

The project, now in its fifth year, mixes fish and wood materials to form a rich compost, sold as 'Growing Wild.' This year it produced 24,000 cubic yards of compost ­ the most ever - and used 6,000 pounds of fish wastes from co-composter, Prime Select Seafoods. Smith said they hope to eventually use all of the gurry produced by that plant.

The Watershed Project is also working with Cordova processors to produce fish meal and refined oils for use as bio-diesel.

"We don't have access to natural gas and we have to bring in all our diesel. We have an abundance of fish coming through town and it seems like such a natural way to go. I think we could burn everything we generate right here," Smith said.

Smart Gear winners

A high rise trawl net called 'the eliminator' took home the $30,000 top prize at this year's international Smart Gear competition. The contest, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, rewards new ideas that help fishermen retain their target catch while letting marine mammals, turtles, birds or small fish swim away.

The Eliminator, created by a team of fishermen and University of Rhode Island advisors, uses large mesh openings in the front and underbelly to reduce bycatch of cod in haddock fisheries.

"It takes advantage of fish behavior," said WWF's Mike Osmond, who announced the winners at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle.

Two runners up each took home $10,000. Glenn Parsons of the Univ. of Mississippi won for his 'nested cylinder' design, which uses light and water flow to reduce bycatch of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery. Diego Zevallos of Argentinia won for his simple plastic cone that attaches to trawler warp cables to keep sea birds away from the fishing gear.

Osmond said the Smart Gear contest "will take a year off to help get all these gears refined and out in the field."

"Nets like the Eliminator belong in the water, not on stage," said National Fisherman editor Jerry Fraser, urging more cooperation by fishery managers. Find out more 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