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EU wild salmon buyers ‘nervous’ as volumes lag

The coming days of fishing will be crucial for both suppliers and buyers.

So far the wild salmon season in Alaska has not exactly panned out in line with forecasts, and the lack of fish being landed is making both suppliers and buyers "nervous."

Max Ropner, species director on wild salmon for New England Seafood, told IntraFish while there are some volumes of fish, they are coming quite late compared with the past.

“The general feeling we are getting at the moment is everyone is still slightly nervous, no-one is committing to prices or the volumes available and everyone is jockeying for position.”

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In terms of prices, it is an inflationary environment at the moment, he said.

For New England, the two biggest species it is after are sockeye and keta -- also known as chum -- but the factors driving the nervousness will also come from what's happening with the pink salmon season which also just started.

“The next five days or so will be crucial. We will get a sense of the overall volumes to be landed this year.”

Biding time

The volume of fish currently being landed is nowhere near anyone thought they were going to be by now, and much lower than the forecasts.

"So people are biding their time,” said Ropner. “For sockeye we’ve seen a very poor start to this year, it’s not as successful as it’s been in the past.”

Buyers are unable to get their hands on fresh sockeye -- which although is not a product for New England -- “pushes up the nervousness.”

With the situation on supply as it currently stands, naturally it is difficult to predict prices, “but it feels like we are going into a tougher market," said Ropner.

The longer people have to wait the more nervous they get, and the bigger deals are still waiting to be done, he said.

“Prices are definitely inflationary on both species and we’re expecting higher prices. That is the general sentiment, as we stand, it is just a case of by how much.”

5ea340ffc32764a9d82c52060637d58d Alaska landings update July 10, 2018 Photo: ASMI

Jis de Kievit, sales manager for Dutch company Welmar Seafood, confirmed the EU market for wild salmon species is quite slow, while there is also still a lot of stock hanging around. People are waiting to see how the season will develop, she told IntraFish.

The season start was slow for chum and sockeye salmon in particular, while also the size of the sockeye salmon is very small.

The pink salmon season has only just started but it is already known that catches will be about 50 percent less from the 2017 season, she said.

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There are also huge stocks in stores from the bankruptcy of Product Trade Center Germany (PTC) and this "will also have some effect when these products come on the market."

De Kievit said expectations are that prices for chum salmon, at least, will be higher from last year’s prices.

In addition, the first indications for sockeye salmon is that prices would be approximately the same as last year.

“But now the season start has been very disappointing we’re not sure what’s going to happen.”

This year there will also be runs in Canada, starting in August.

“Perhaps that will give some opportunities but obviously it is not known yet how that will turn out."

In general, though, de Kievit believes there will be some big challenges for this new season, namely being able to buy the necessary quantities in the right sizes at reasonable prices.

Wild versus farmed

In addition, de Kievit said there were signs of people replacing farmed salmon with wild salmon as prices for farmed are "very high."

However, she did say this was not too common as the cheaper replacement is chum salmon and this is a totally different salmon in terms of both taste and structure.

“But I know there have been a lot of tests on this so I suspect farmed salmon will be replaced more in future -- if prices of chum stay reasonable of course.”

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Adam Peasey, species managing director for New England Seafood, said his company also has to keep an eye on what’s happening with farmed salmon.

“The demand from retailers ebbs and flows depending on where they are on contracts with farmed salmon and what the prices are doing there.

"At the moment, some are wanting to get more out of wild salmon then in the past."

This is definitely the case for keta, he said, which generally is a lower cost raw material.

Sockeye, on the other hand, “is a very different product, and for a very different shopper who really appreciate wild salmon."

Gaining traction

New England supplies its salmon mainly to UK retail, and processes for all the main supermarkets, including Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco.

The company also sells to foodservice in the form of its subsidiary Joii Sushi, and is expanding further in the sector, mainly to the top end and premium market.

In general though, Peasey said wild salmon is gaining traction in the UK with the biggest driver coming from the smoking sector.

Penetration figures for farmed salmon in the UK retail sector currently shows that 53 percent of shoppers buy farmed salmon at least once every 52 weeks. For wild salmon this figure is 7 percent.

“But for New England this means there is a huge opportunity to grow wild salmon on the UK market -- it is growing fast but from a low base,” said Peasey.

And he remains optimistic for the season.

“The Alaska salmon industry is a once-a-year harvest, it is live and dynamic, we have to re-invent pricing strategy each year, but we have good relationships with our suppliers and are confident of bringing wild salmon back to the UK,” he said.

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