Peter Pan Seafoods may have been the first company to commit to paying Alaska fisherman a base price well above last year's for the salmon they catch this summer, but other companies are now upping the ante.
As of Monday, Silver Bay Seafoods, OBI Seafoods and North Pacific had all posted base prices of $1.25 (€1.06) per pound for the sought-after sockeye salmon, a 15 cent (€0.12) increase over the first price of the season Peter Pan announced in June. The price is a significant jump compared to the 70 cents (€0.59) base price paid last year, which processors attributed to unusual COVID-fueled market conditions.
Silver Bay Seafoods CEO Cora Campbell told IntraFish thatin addition to its base price, the company has "very significant quality incentives that a large percentage of our catch is eligible for."
Jon Hickman, vice president of operations for Peter Pan Seafoods, told IntraFish the company was happy to match that $1.25 (€1.06) price "late last week after gauging the strength of the run and the market."
"When we announced our initial base price early this season, we did that based on forecasts and information we had at the time, to put fishermen at ease that they would receive a fair price and to help them plan their finances for the year," he said.
"Now as the season is winding down, we are in a position to evaluate the season and how our sales projections look. With this information, we felt it was only responsible to push the base price up to $1.25, once again demonstrating our commitment and our partnership with the harvesters."
The company is also offering a late-season incentive of 10 cents (€0.08) for fish harvested after July 18 to keep the fleet motivated to stay on the water even though the sockeye season is winding down.
"They took the lead this year by posting price before we fished and then upping the price before people started to go home," longtime fishermen Tom Rogotzke told IntraFish of Peter Pan.
Rogotzke sells fish to the processor in addition to running a direct-to-consumer business with his family out of Minnesota. He said Monday he was making his last delivery for the season from his family's fishing vessel, but that others in his crew were sticking around.
"There are still a few fish to be caught but it's been pretty thin for a few days now," he said. "My dad and uncle will fish another tide at least."
At 38 million fish as of July 18, the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon harvest has now gone well beyond what was forecasted by Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG). However, fishing is starting to slow down in many major river districts.
The Nushagak and Ugashik Districts are still well above their average harvest pace, but Egegik and Naknek-Kvichak are running further behind their 5-year average harvest, according to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA). A total of 351,000 sockeye were harvested in Bristol Bay on July 18, with the 2021 harvest about 8 percent higher than the 5-year average.
James Radon, who has has been fishing for Peter Pan in both the Nushagak and Ugashik river districts in Bristol Bay, told IntraFish this season was simply amazing.
"I'm glad to be a part of it," he said, adding he is also starting to pack up his gear for the year.
The influx of salmon into the global market should easily find a home, according to what the data are showing. The growth in fresh seafood sales at US supermarkets in the first six months of the year outpaced that of frozen and shelf-stable fish and shellfish, with salmon leading the charge.
Andy Wink, executive director of BBRSDA, confirmed that interest in the product remains high.
"With high demand for both wild and farmed salmon, we're not surprised to see ex-vessel prices increase a lot over last year," he told IntraFish. "Last year was really a 'black swan' type of event, but in the couple years prior to the pandemic the base ex-vessel price for Bristol Bay sockeye was $1.26-$1.35/pound."
Wink even predicts the market conditions for Bristol Bay sockeye could exceed those seen in 2018 and 2019, when the final and average prices ranged from $1.54 (€1.30) to $1.60 (€1.36) per pound.
"Ex-vessel prices for Bristol Bay sockeye usually aren't finalized until payments are settled up in the following spring," he said. "The base price is just part of the final price, which also includes quality bonuses and (often) profit sharing."