Alaska processors are already anticipating not being able to harvest the nearly 60 million salmon that could be available this summer if Alaska's sockeye salmon run matches projections.
Processors intend to purchase up to 52 million salmon in 2022, said the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) earlier this week, after surveying 15 major unnamed companies who intend to purchase the salmon from fishermen.
That means nearly 8 million fish could be left in the water this year, and Bristol Bay fishermen could lose out on over $100 million (€88.4 million), according to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA).
The group noted that with demand for Bristol Bay sockeye near an all-time high, the report should sound the alarm bell for more processing capacity in Bristol Bay.
Processors reported to ADF&G that they will have a daily processing capacity of three million fish for the 2022 season. While the 2021 season set single-day records for catches, it was during the 2020 fishing season that processors were forced to limit purchases due to millions of fish being caught on peak days during the season.
"When full plants and tenders put fishermen on limits the effect is particularly damaging for fishermen," the BBRSDA said. "That extra fish is essentially pure profit for skippers and crew, as well as lost tax revenue for local and state government."
The processing capacity issue is compounding the fact that processors are already worried they won't be able to hire enough workers to meet their needs for this summer's harvest due to a lack of available foreign worker visas.
Still, the intended purchases in 2022 would be an increase of 10 million fish, or 25 percent since the last survey in 2019, according to ADF&G.
Five processors account for 96 percent of this increase. Three established operations have increased capacity by 20-30 percent each, and the other two processors reported a capacity increase of around 5 percent each.
Ten companies intend to provide tenders in Bristol Bay, with a total holding capacity of 9 million fish this year. Three of these companies will also provide long-haul tenders in 2022, delivering to at least four locations outside of Bristol Bay. The daily capacity of the Bristol Bay long-haul tender fleet is 650,000 fish.
ADF&G is projecting a 75.27 million run of sockeye, with an estimated harvest of 59.9 million fish in Bristol Bay.
A Bristol Bay harvest of this size is 75 percent greater than the most recent 10-year average harvest of 34.2 million, and 170 percent greater than the long-term average harvest of 22.2 million fish.
The full version of the preseason survey will be made available later this year.