Huge returns, weak prices, mark 2001 Southeast salmon season

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Most salmon species are returning to Southeast Alaska in force this season, but prices are down and fishermen are disappointed by a low catch of chum salmon, which are currently in demand in Japan.

''It's a good season, but certainly we've had better'' said Jim Becker, a commercial fisherman.

Forecasts are calling for only about 10 million chum this year after a near-record haul of 16 million in the Southeast last year.

That's bad news for fishermen who see chum eggs as one of the few salmon products that can command higher prices in a market already glutted by farm-raised salmon.

''The Japanese market has, if not an insatiable taste for that product, at least a very strong demand for it,'' said David Bedford, of Southeast Alaska Seiners Association.

State biologists noted the Southeast coho return could rank among the top five on record and pink salmon are strong in parts of the Inside Passage. Biologists said forecasts of 50 million pink salmon have been easily surpassed so far.

Despite strong catches, fishermen in Southeast say they are struggling like fishermen in Western Alaska to stay afloat.

Prices for coho fell from an average of $1 per pound last year to 80 cents per pound last week, said Terry Barry, general manager of Hoonah Cold Storage.

Fisherman Stewart Ely said some processors are paying only 75 cents a pound for troll-caught coho.

''It's about starvation rates. It's very hard to make it at that amount,'' said Ely, who also noted the chinook fishery was better than average.

The base price for pinks ranged from 15 to 18 cents a pound, down slightly from last year, said Chris McDowell, who tracks prices for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Sockeye prices also fell a bit, but that was offset somewhat by bigger catches, he said.

Sockeye made a strong return to Southeast and hit record levels at the Taku River south of Juneau.

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