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Fish Factor

2007 crab fishery will be in full swing by mid-January
By Laine Welch


December 18, 2006

With almost no snow crab carry-overs in the nation's freezers and crimped catch quotas in competing countries, Bering Sea crabbers are hoping for a bigger paycheck for Alaska's largest crab fishery. The 2007 season will be in full swing by mid-January, and while most crab markets are feeling the pinch of over supply, that's not the case for snow crab.

"We would like to see an advance price of $1.60," said Greg White, a negotiator for the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, crab harvesters who hold about 70 percent of the Bering Sea king and snow crab quota shares. "We think that's supportable in the current market environment."

The average price for Alaska snow crab last season was just 84 cents a pound, settling out at $1.15 to $1.19 after post season adjustments.

Urner Barry, which since 1858 has tracked U.S. food products, reported in late Nov. that inventories are "close to being sold out and demand is extremely active" for Canadian product. Canada is the world's largest snow crab producer, delivering close to 195 million pounds this year into mostly U.S. markets. Canada's crab quotas are on a downward spiral, as are Russia's, where catches have dropped to a still hefty 110 million pounds. Alaska is a bit player in comparison, producing about 37 million pounds of snow crab in the coming year, just 10 percent of world supply.

But Bering Sea crabbers can get the jump on their competition, said Ken Talley, editor of Seafood Trends newsletter.

"One of the keys of success for Alaskan snow crab, for processors and fishermen, will be getting the crab harvested and into the market as quickly as possible. That's the only way for Alaskan production to take advantage of the vacuum in supply. When Canadian snow crab hits the market in late April, it will set the pace and Alaska will only follow along," Talley said.

"We feel like we are at the 50 yard line and the nearest defensive player is about 30 yards behind us, and all we've got to do is run to the end zone. "Last year the processors didn't make money and neither did the harvesters. It's time to turn that around for both," said Greg White.

The 2006 Bering Sea snow crab catch of 40 million pounds was valued at $31 million at the docks.

Surimi by any other name.

The Alaska pollock industry is celebrating a name change for surimi ­the popular crab, lobster or shrimp flavored seafood made from whitefish that is served in seafood salads and at sushi bars. The FDA is now allowing the word "imitation" to be dropped from surimi product labels, a requirement since the product was introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s.

The imitation term creates a negative perception with consumers, said Rick Muir of the group Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP.

"Imitation is not something that people get all warm and fuzzy about. So we were really looking forward to getting out a name that wouldn't deceive the public but would be more appealing and appetizing," Muir said. The Alaska pollock industry and the National Fisheries Institute have been lobbying Congress for a decade to allow the new description.

Producers hope the new labeling will prompt consumers to take another look at surimi products, whose sales have lagged since the mid 1990's. There are eight US surimi companies and ten plants, mostly in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. The industry produces 185 million pounds of surimi each year valued at $300 million.

Surimi is called by its Japanese name which means ground meat. The product dates back to the 12th century when Japanese fishermen discovered minced and salted fish lasted longer.

Seward and sport fish

A study getting underway by the Alaska Sea Life Center will analyze the economic impact of sport caught salmon to Seward's economy, and compare the benefits to the high costs of salmon enhancement and restoration programs.

"We have paid up to 50 cents per smolt for these fish that are then released. The return of those animals is fairly low, so the actual cost of the investment in those fish is pretty high," said center husbandry director Lee Kellar.

The Seward study will focus primarily on the importance of coho and chinook salmon to the local sport fishery. "We believe it's fairly apparent that these fish bring a lot of value to our community, but we don't have a figure and we don't know the full scope of it," Kellar said. He added that the region's local chinook runs are under utilized and the study might provide more direction for that fishery.

"We hope to hear from folks who own hardware stores and restaurants and hotels and B&B's and every other type of business, in addition to the direct beneficiaries of the sport fishing industry. That will give us a more accurate representation of the real values and benefits of the sport fishery to the Seward community," Kellar said.

Surveys and interviews are being conducted by the McDowell Group with funding from ADF&G's Sustainable Salmon Fund. Results will be available next fall.



Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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