Copper River flat: Alaska's summer salmon season starts slow

Discussion in 'Conservation, Fishery Politics and Management.' started by wildmanyeah, May 19, 2020.

  1. wildmanyeah

    wildmanyeah Crew Member

  2. Pineapple Express

    Pineapple Express Well-Known Member

    Why are prices down so much? Isn't there demand for fresh fish these days? Or is it an issue of the processing plants not being staffed/able to take the catch?
  3. wildmanyeah

    wildmanyeah Crew Member

    Iced out salmon?

    The season of the salmon in the year of the COVID is not starting off well in the 49th state.

    A dismal opening for the fabled Copper River salmon fishery on Thursday was followed by a better but still grim day for Cordova gillnetters on Tuesday when a 12-hour fishing period ended with landings of less than 25 percent of the day’s projected catch of about 29,000 salmon.

    The more than 400 commercial fishermen who took to the water finished the day with an average catch of less than 16 fish per boat. Personal-use dipnetters on the Kenai River south of Anchorage regularly do better.

    The good news was that the catch of 1,700 Chinook, the big and valuable king salmon, was near historic norms for the date. The bad news was the normally plentifully sockeye were noticeably missing.

    The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had forecast a weak return of the latter salmon, but not this weak. The low catches were causing a “moderate level of concern,” said Bert Lewis, the agency’s Central Region supervisor for commerical fisheries.

    Fishery managers canceled this week’s regularly scheduled opening of the fishery, but Lewis noted it is too early in the season to panic. The run could be weak, but it could also be simply late.

    There is some thought a nearshore band of cold water might have the fish holding offshore. Winter ice is still in the process of exiting the muddy, turbulent, glacial-fed Copper in East Central Alaska.

    Few salmon in-river
    Only 180 salmon are known to have gone upstream, but the low number is tied to late-season ice. An underwater sonar that usually starts ticking off salmon on May 1 didn’t go in the water until Tuesday.

    Installation of the sonar array was delayed more than two weeks by ice. The conditions are unusual, but not unknown. Alaska is just emerging from the coldest winter in a decade.

    Gulf of Alaska waters are warm as they have been for several years now, but “nearshore waters are cold,” Lewis said.

    The conditions give both managers and fishermen a ray of hope to cling to in a year that started off with bad news for Cordova-based fishermen and then, as everywhere, disintegrated into pandemic panic.

    About the time China first admitted to a “grave situation” with a previously unknown coronavirus emerging in Wuhan, Fish and Game issued a salmon forecast that predicted a total, 2020 sockeye return of just over 1.5 million sockeye, or about two-thirds the average number seen over the last 10 seasons.

    The weak return was largely forgotten as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic sucked the air out of the news everywhere, but it is echoing back now with the threat that the season could be even worse than predicted.

    After a long winter without state ferry service in a state struggling with budgetary woes only growing worse by the day, angst is settling on Cordova, an isolated community of fewer than 2,300 people near the southeast entrance to Prince William Sound.

    The fabled, first-of-year Copper River king and sockeye salmon have over the decades developed a cult following in fancy restaurants across the U.S.

    “It’s been a moneymaker for more than 20 years,” Lewis said.

    Unfortunately, COVID-19 has thrown a curve into the works this year. Many of the high-end restaurants that featured and promoted Copper River salmon are shuttered in cities under lockdown, or trying to come up with a model to make their businesses work in cities that have allowed them to open at half capacity.

    $115 million business
    With the restaurant demand for fresh salmon crashing, prices have fallen despite a minimal supply. Sockeye worth $8 per pound at the start of the season last year are reported to be bringing only $3 at the dock this year. The big Chinook, meanwhile, have dropped from $16 to a reported $6.

    At last year’s prices, the Monday catch of 1,703 kings and 4,552 sockeye would have been worth more than $700,000. This year it was probably closer to $264,000 or about $641 per boat on average.

    The early season fish attract a premium, and many gillnet fishermen depend on that for a big part of their annual income. Prices later in the year fall significantly as salmon from elsewhere enter the market.

    The city of Cordova has little other than commercial fishing in the way of an economy.

    There is some tourism, but COVID-19 has all but killed that business in the 49th state. A mandated quarantine of 14 days for anyone arriving in from out of state appears to have discouraged nearly all tourists from gambling on a trip north.

    Sockeyes and kings are the lifeblood of the 400 to 500 gillnetters who fish Copper River and the nearby Sound ever year, but the Sound also supports an important seine fishery targeted on the harvest of smallish, low-value pink salmon.

    Those 200 permit holders caught almost 50 million pinks worth $58 million last year, according to state figures. Unfortunately, pink runs are strongest in odd-numbered years in the Sound, and 2020 is an even-numbered year.

    The preseason forecast predicted a harvest of 26 million of the fish – just over half of the catch last year. Pinks brought an average price of 34 cents a pound last year, but Alaska salmon prices seem to be softening everywhere this year.

    It could be a rough summer in the region.
  4. wildmanyeah

    wildmanyeah Crew Member

    Not looking good for copper river sockeye
  5. ericl

    ericl Well-Known Member

    Great info. As for prices, bought some CRK yesterday at $45/lb US. Today is our wedding anniversary otherwise I would have passed. Fish is bright & in good condition but the size is pathetic.

    It CAN be the best Chinook I have every eaten. Complication is that there are at least 6 distinct runs of Chinook of the Copper. Some are typical Chinook color of flesh, some are a darker red that Sockeye. My ex-neighbor ran his Purse Seiner as a tender back in the day; the one's he cherry-picked & sent to me were the Orange/Pink versus Red.
  6. wildmanyeah

    wildmanyeah Crew Member

    Thursday, June 4, 2:23 pm PST

    Things are bad, but they have been worse

    Longtime Cordova Fishermen Bill Webber recently posted on his blog that "it is merely getting too late to say the salmon are late in the 2020 early return to the Copper River."

    This week is the second in a row that fishermen in Prince William Sound were only allowed one fishing period during the week versus having two.

    Despite this year's season ranking somewhere in the bottom 10 of commercial harvests dating back to 1969, it's still better than it was two years ago.

    In 2018, the season shut down after three commercial fishing periods, and was the second-lowest harvest recorded over the past 50 years, according to ADF&G's Jeremy Botz.

    "This year, we’re definitely seeing a higher harvest in the individual periods," he said compared to what fishermen faced in 2018. "The sonar count is also doing better than 2018 at this point."

    The market dynamics, which have continued to drop the price of Copper River salmon at retailers despite a lack of supply, are likely to improve by the July 4 US holiday, added Matthew Davis with Santa Monica Seafood.

    "I don’t know that I would call it a failure," he said of this year's season. "It was definitely on the sparse end of the openers I’ve seen over the last 15-20 years but definitely not the worst."


    Wednesday June 3, 2:00 pm PST

    Copper River's strange market dynamics don't bode well for Bristol Bay

    What goes down, must go even further down?

    Copper River prices have continued to stumble despite very low supply, and these bizarre market dynamics are concerning fishermen and buyers alike as it could signal to a lack of consumer interest in all Alaska salmon products this summer.

    "Pricing is coming down even though there are very few fish in the market," Mac Paranto, the sustainability manager and buyer with Colorado-based Seattle Fish, told IntraFish. "People aren’t too keen on purchasing a 5-7 pound sockeye for $100.00 (€89.55)."

    While the season started off with its typically sky-high retail prices, ADF&G data from Monday's opener shows fishing has so far, been on par with the previous lackluster openers: fishermen hauled in over 31,000 sockeye, 832 king salmon, and made 412 deliveries.

    With Bristol Bay fishing set to be underway in a few weeks, those same dynamics are unlikely to budge.

    Some Bristol Bay fishermen are already predicting lower market prices for sockeye due to coronavirus-related challenges as well as a down economy.

    "If I had to speak to price or make any sort of guess for this season I would mostly refer to the fact that COVID-19 has caused a lot of instability in the markets as a whole," Bristol Bay Fishermen Tom Rogotzke told IntraFish. "Processors are taking on increased cost for keeping their workers healthy and that cost will most likely be passed on to, or at least shared, with the fishermen."

    While it remains unclear how Alaska salmon will compete in a US protein market that has been experiencing moments of "meat shock," he said he remains optimistic.

    I'm always hopeful for a fair price and good fishing," he added.


    Tuesday, June 2, 9:45 pm PST

    Field hospital set up in Bristol Bay region

    The charity organization Samaritan's Purse delivered an emergency field hospital to King Salmon, Alaska, to provide support in Bristol Bay if there is an outbreak of the coronavirus during the upcoming Bristol Bay salmon season.

    "I think the fear just from the fishing season if somebody came in and got it into the community, there was just a lot of fear," Reverend Franklin Graham, a North Carolina religious leader who was instrumental in arranging for the field hospital, told KTVA news.

    The facility will handle overflow COVID-19 cases if needed. The community health center in King Salmon has one clinic and a two-bed emergency room.


    Monday, June 1, 1:00 pm PST

    Not plenty of fish in the sea

    Copper River's Monday opener, which was announced this past Saturday by Alaska fisheries officials, is moving slowly, according to fishermen in the area.

    Copper River Fisherman Thea Thomas told IntraFish high winds and rough sees are making it difficult to fish effectively.

    "My thought is that the harvest will be smaller for both reds and kings for this opener," she said.

    A lack of product is not preventing retailers from reducing prices, QFC's Adam Branin told IntraFish.

    "Costs are still high, but we are reducing our retail to $29.99/lb (€26.97/lb) on sockeye just to get it moving, as it’s not selling as quickly as we’d like," he said.


    Monday, June 1, 10 am PST

    Bristol Bay season begins

    Amid increasing news of coronavirus outbreaks in Alaska and throughout the seafood industry, the state's Bristol Bay Ugashik District opened to commercial fishing. The announcement is a bit of a soft opening for the fishery, longtime Bristol Bay Fisherman Michael Jackson, told IntraFish.

    For the past fifteen years Jackson has sold his fish through his own company Fall Line Fisheries, and also sells to Trident Seafoods.

    He said the season usually begins around June 15. More than half of all the sockeye caught globally come out of Bristol Bay.


    Wednesday, May 27 1:22 pm PST

    Sockeye soar in latest fish count, but season remains on shaky ground

    The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) has not announced another opener, but said it anticipates the next one being Monday, June 1. The catch reported from the May 25 opener was a meager 1,470 kings. The news for sockeye was much better, with 33,750 fish harvested.

    That amount for sockeye, while seven times the amount caught in the second fishing period, is only a little more than half of what the state agency projected would be 60,050 sockeye salmon harvested by this time. ADF&G reported there were 448 deliveries from the Monday opener, which should provide some relief to weary buyers.

    Unfortunately, the run will not provide enough supply to relieve high prices for sockeye, with US retailers and restaurants still asking for around $30.00 (€27.37) to $40.00 (€36.50) per pound for the salmon.
  7. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member

    Shuttered restaurants or restaurants reduced to 50% seating capacity, a big spike in unemployment stats, people (like me) who are pessimistic about the economy and suspect it just ain’t going to come “roaring back” in the short term and stick to chicken and fish I catch myself....

    I’m a commie bait distributor and I talk to the sales guys who are in charge of selling the catch. Black Cod prices ex-vessel are currently on parr with where they were in 1995 (before Japanese black cod demand went through the ceiling and drove global black cod prices through the roof). Some of the big Alaskan packers are offering prices to the fishermen so low the black cod guys just won’t deliver. My bait sales have cratered in response... catch volumes out-stripped demand (Japan) so things have dramatically slowed down in that fishery

    The only bright spot—-halibut. Retail stores have tempered prices from the ridiculous levels they were for the last 5 years....just enough to get people coming through the door and buying flatties to cook at home

    The situation in China (new C-19 spike in food markets/seafood markets) has slammed the door shut on the goeduc guys and the dungeness guys so expect prices for those items to crater. East Coast lobster prices went off a cliff weeks ago because of China stepping back from the table .

    It’s a jungle out there....please go out and buy a McD’s fish fillet sandwich to make people think there’s still consumer demand for seafood...
    Pineapple Express likes this.

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