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Stable flow of Bristol Bay sockeye calms wholesale, retail prices

A steady flow of Bristol Bay salmon into the market this year is helping stabilize prices for distributors and retailers.

"Last year was such a strange year because you had big gaps in the runs, and the supply line didn't get to normalize,"Matthew Davis, Santa Monica Seafood's director of strategic sourcing and support, told IntraFish.

Bristol Bay plants running at full speed to keep up with market demand for fresh salmon

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While the Bristol Bay run was historic in terms of size and harvest in 2018, it was also unusual in terms of coho arriving early and a portion of the sockeye showing up in August, and even into September, he said.

"There were a lot of anomalies that led to heavier carryover. Prices were higher than people anticipated," he said.

The result was a cautious market of buyers, with much of the product being processed later in the season. That product has carried over into this season for many distributors, and has helped stabilize the flow of sockeye better than last year, he said. "We should see some good frozen prices this year,"

For Davis, who largely purchases sockeye as IQF and vacuum packed, pin-bone-out (PBO), prices in 2018 ranged from $6.50 (€5.78) to $7.50 (€6.67) per pound.

This year, he's seeing prices for those products dropping slightly from last year, with more aggressive buyers likely to nudge that price further down in the coming weeks.

Alaska fishermen who sell directly to buyers, such as Kaleb's Catch, confirmed with IntraFish the Colorado-based company is still selling salmon flash-frozen at sea from 2018 to markets around the state. Product from this year won't be available to those Colorado customers until September, the company said.

A buyer with US retail chain Publix told IntraFish Bristol Bay fresh sockeye prices have also been dropping at the US retail level over the past two weeks. From June 27 through July 4, Publix was seeing pricing at $12.99 (€11.55) per pound, the source said.

But with more fish being harvested, Publix lowered its price for Bristol Bay sockeye to $9.99 (€8.87) per pound as of Thursday.

A seafood manager with Kroger-owned QFC in the Seattle area told IntraFish Wednesday Bristol Bay sockeye is retailing for $11.99 (€10.66) per pound with more set to be shipped to the store into next week.

Plenty of fish in the pipeline

Curry Cunningham, a quantitative biologist in charge of the University of Washington Alaska salmon forecast, told IntraFish the total Bristol Bay run is likely to be well over ADFG's prediction of 40.2 million, possibly as high as 49 million.

"We're certainly going over forecast in the Egegik and are likely to go over in the Nushagak," he said. "We definitely have fish in the pipeline."

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