« May 2009 Table of Contents
Top Species: Wild salmon
Strong Alaska projections counteract California season washout
By Joanne Friedrick
May 01, 2009
The wild salmon industry will be pinning its hopes on Alaska
to keep restaurateurs and retailers well stocked, as Pacific
Coast salmon fisheries are under catch restrictions for the
second consecutive year.
Fortunately, if the projections turn out to be accurate,
this year's Alaska salmon harvest should be the eighth largest
Alaska, which historically accounts for about 95 percent of
the U.S. wild salmon catch, will yield an estimated 175 million
fish encompassing five species, according to Chris McDowell,
project manager for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's
Seafood Market Information Service.
Of that total, pinks will be the largest catch by far,
accounting for 113 million fish. Odd years are best for pinks,
which have a two-year running cycle, says McDowell. In 2008,
the pink harvest was just more than 84 million fish, 27 percent
above the projections.
While pink salmon was in oversupply earlier in the decade,
that situation has changed.
"There is strong demand for pink salmon," he says, "and the
fleets will catch all that is harvestable."
This year's sockeye catch is projected at 38 million fish,
slightly less than last year. Although sockeye numbers have
been strong, they are down from highs in the 48-million-fish
range in the early 1990s, says McDowell. Bristol Bay will
continue to be the state's key site for harvesting sockeye,
with about 70 percent coming from that area.
Coho and chum harvests are predicted at 4.6 million and 18.5
million, respectively, up from 4.4 million and around 18.2
million in 2008.
The marquee salmon species, king or Chinook, fell well below
projections in 2008, with about 351,000 fish harvested, or
approximately half the pre-season projection. Early estimates
for this year put the king harvest in the 350,000 to 370,000
range, says McDowell.
California season a bust
For the second year in a row, California is canceling its
wild salmon season, citing ocean conditions for the loss of
juvenile salmon. Without the north wind to churn up the ocean
bottom to aid the feeding of the smaller fish, there was
greater loss of juvenile salmon, says David Goldenberg, CEO of
the California Salmon Council.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC), which sets
the season structure for wild salmon fishing in California,
Oregon and Washington, recommended no commercial or
recreational salmon fishing in California again this year, says
Goldenberg. Oregon and Washington will have a coho and king
season, he says. And the latter will include 200 king salmon
that could have been harvested in California, but will be
allocated to the Oregon/Washington season.
"We're hoping in 2010 we'll get a season structure," says
Goldenberg, "but we won't know until [surveys are made] in fall
Goldenberg says California salmon fishermen qualified for
economic disaster relief in 2008, but no additional funds have
been offered for this year. There is about $50 million left
from the $170 million allocated in 2008, he says, and after the
PFMC adopted its season structure on April 9, the remaining
funds could be reallocated. Goldenberg says some in the wild
salmon industry hold multiple state licenses, but the majority
make their way into other fisheries when the salmon season is
The absence of a California
season and the conservative
projections elsewhere will likely keep wild king salmon prices
McDowell says the winter fishery is an early indicator of
what is likely to happen with the price of king salmon.
Although the total harvest was just 141 fish, they were selling
for ex-vessel prices of $7 to $8 per pound.
Some Alaska species, like halibut, have seen price
corrections, says McDowell.
Pacific cod is another species that has undergone a price
adjustment, says Tom Sunderland, VP of marketing at Ocean
Beauty Seafoods in Seattle. "High-priced fish are harder to
move," he notes.
Everyone is keeping an eye on the currency situation and how
that will impact the wild salmon market, he says.
"As currency (like the Euro) goes down and credit is tighter
to get, it will have an impact," says Sunderland. Ocean Beauty
does about one third of its business outside the United States,
he says, although that includes Japan, which hasn't been
impacted as strongly by the recession. The issues in Europe
could also impact the salmon roe market, he adds.
"That's almost all an export product," he says, adding that
it's doubtful the U.S. market would be able to absorb the extra
roe supply. Roe prices were unusually high in 2008, says
McDowell, and increases ranged from 15 percent to 135 percent
higher than 2007. Chinook roe, for example, was $3.76 per pound
wholesale in 2007, but $8.83 in 2008. Chum roe soared to $13.45
per pound compared to $6.89 in 2007. This year, McDowell
expects the roe segment to "settle down a bit."
Despite the supply and price volatility, Sunderland says
he's looking forward to a good season.
"I don't see pure doom and gloom," he says. "In this
business, where we are so accustomed to uncertainty, we're
better attuned to handle it."
Product development continues to be a focus, adds
Sunderland, especially with value-added products. Once-frozen
salmon fillets are popular. And Ocean Beauty's latest products
incorporate microwavable steaming technology.
IQF frozen chum and sockeye portions are emerging as
recession-friendly offerings in the wild salmon marketplace,
according to John van Amerongen, spokesman for Trident
"Both are abundant, hearty fish with firm flesh and a size
that lends itself well to portioning," he says. "Pricewise,
they offer our customers a couple of great value options
depending on their menu, their clientele and the economy."
While van Amerongen describes sockeye's flavor as "the
epitome of wild," chum, or keta, offers a milder flavor that
works well with marinades.
Demand remains strong
Within the foodservice industry, restaurateurs continue to
build a following for wild salmon, including branching out
At Salty's on Alki Beach in Seattle, Executive Chef Jeremy
McLachlan has added wild coho to the menu. "Three years ago I
only did king," he explains, "but now I'm using a lot of cohos
because there just aren't as many kings."
McLachlan sources his frozen wild coho from Washington. He
also uses Copper River sockeye in banquets and as a menu
upgrade. "We have one staple salmon (the frozen coho), but then
the customer can upgrade (for $6 more) to whatever is running,"
Until the Columbia River kings are in season, McLachlan is
offering wild cohos and frozen kings on his menu.
Prices continue to be a challenge, he notes. "I've seen the
market go up and down. For the most part, the market has
flattened out at the high end. Prices have been as high as $28
to $30 a pound for Copper River wild salmon, "but hopefully
we'll get it at $24 to $25 a pound after the first week."
Although pink salmon is more reasonably priced, McLachlan
says "pink fillets are too small for us. We'd only get one cut
out of a side."
Salmon is the No. 1 item on Salty's menu, he says, in large
part because of its strong Northwest association. The
restaurant prepares it in many ways: fried, cold smoked then
grilled, seared, braised and as salmon and chips.
In Chicago, Shaw's Crab House is menuing frozen Columbia
River king salmon, says Steve LaHaie, managing partner. While
fresh wild king is available now from the winter harvest,
LaHaie says they are staying away from it because of the
"Although fresh wild salmon is our preference, we have
enough frozen to get us through May," says LaHaie. At that
point, the restaurant will offer Copper River kings, followed
by sockeyes and chums in the summer.
Frozen wild salmon is preferable to fresh farmed, he says,
and that was proven in training with service staff in March.
During a taste test of frozen wild and fresh farmed salmon, the
Customers are also more aware of wild salmon, he says.
During the National Restaurant Show in May, LaHaie says Shaw's
sells between 85 and 100 servings of Copper River salmon each
"The whole seafood industry has done a better job of
promoting the health aspects and sustainability of salmon,"
Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in South