Warm Rivers, Modest Runs, Small Fish
2015-07-11
Alaska is always beautiful, eve...

Alaska is always beautiful, even when it is barren.

It is just more barren than it should be at this time of year.

Normally there is much more...

Normally there is much more water from the melting snowpack.

The fish are small, but when ...

The fish are small, but when carefully handled,

they are beautiful and our customers love what they get.

While the Alaskan sockeye fish run is in full swing, some interesting—and alarming—aspects of this season make it one of the more unusual ones on record.

The first issue is that many of the rivers, and not just in Alaska, are at levels lower than they have been in a number of years. The lack of snowpack in the mountains is a major reason for the lower volume of river water, leading to higher water temperature and negatively impacting how the fish migrate back to their spawning grounds. Ideal water temperatures for salmon migration are in the 12⁰-14⁰ C range, and some of the rivers have been measured 17⁰+; 20⁰ +/- is usually fatal, but even before reaching such a high level, the fish become distressed and more susceptible to disease and other breakdowns.

A second issue, which is harder to fully understand, is the small size of the fish. It appears to be a repeat of last year’s Bristol Bay problem, only this year it appears to have spread across the region. Whether it is due to a lack of food, excessive competition for the food that is there, or some other factor is unclear, but the reality is that the entire industry will see many of the same 2/4 size fish that was the defining feature of just the Bristol Bay fishery last year.

The third issue is that the runs in Bristol Bay, Prince William Sound and Southeast have been underwhelming. The Cook Inlet fishery hasn’t started in earnest, so it is too soon to tell how that will turn out, but there is concern among the industry that these smaller fish could make up nearly 70% of the run, versus the historical range of 40-45%.

At E&E, we are attempting to deal with these issues in ways that maintain the high level of service our customers expect of us.

Our Bristol Bay fisheries on the Egegik and Ugashik Rivers are less prone to the concentrated runs seen in other parts of the Bay, so our fish are likely to have experienced less stress. That’s a better fish for you.

Recognizing the trend towards smaller fish, a number of our retailers are “downsizing” their portion sizes and embracing the smaller fish as a way to appeal to changing demographics.

The smaller runs are a curse and a blessing: they should create some upward momentum on prices, which could help the industry in general. But next to a glut of low cost farmed salmon on the market, it is unclear how much pricing power there is.

One thing is sure: producers like E&E that have a history of care in handling the fish from catch to shipment, are in a great position to add value in the marketplace.


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