Bristol Bay fishermen protest processors’ low sockeye market price — 50 cents per pound

Bristol Bay fisherman protest processor's low sockeye market price — 50 cents per pound
Published: Jul. 20, 2023 at 6:19 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Some Bristol Bay fishermen are furious over the 50 cents per pound market price for sockeye salmon that Bristol Bay processors are hitting them with.

According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Bristol Bay accounted for 26% of the Alaska salmon harvest in terms of pounds landed in 2019.

Now the fishermen are protesting over a market price they received 40 years ago — a price some fishermen said could force the industry into a downward spiral, and that action needs to be taken.

On Thursday morning, more than 60 fishing vessels lined the Naknek River in solidarity. Protest spokesperson Cheyne Blough said the protest was announced on Facebook when the processors declared the base price earlier this week.

Blough said that for the last few years, fishermen have been receiving somewhere around $1.15 to a $1.50 per pound for their sockeye haul. With inflated costs of doing business, they were hoping for more than $2 per pound this season.

Blough said the 50 cent per pound market price isn’t enough for fishermen to recover their costs, and could put some out of business.

“Even as someone as experienced as myself, and I put in a fair amount of fish, after I pay my basic expenses and crew and whatnot, I’m probably going to go home with nothing, Blough said.

Additionally, he said one of the processors put out a letter citing Russia is increasing its seafood exports into the global seafood market to generate cash for the war in Ukraine.

“We are so tired of it was COVID. Now it’s Russia. The fish are too small, the fish are too large. On and on and on to never increase the prices. Our expenditures are through the roof,” Blough said.

McKinley Marketing Consultant Sam Friedman said the lower market price by processors could also be a result of inflation impacting consumers’ shopping habits.

“Unfortunately as some belts have tightened and consumers have tried to find ways to save money, they have sometimes moved away from seafood and switched to other sources of protein,” Friedman said.

However, Bristol Bay fisherman Ivan Basargin thinks there may be some holes in that argument.

“They are telling us there are a bunch of fish left over from last year. The company we fish for told us they pretty much sold all their fish,” Basargin said.

Blough said he is hoping the protest gets the attention of Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state lawmakers.

Both Blough and Basargin said one short-term solution is for prices by processors to be posted before the season begins, and a long-term solution is to create more competition in the market amongst processors in Bristol Bay.

“We know the Jones Act can be addressed. [Sen.] Lisa Murkowski and [Sen.] Dan Sullivan just carved out a little exemption for the cruise ship industry when the cruise ship industry was in trouble. We know things to that level can occur if we get attention to the right people that understand how serious this problem is,” Blough said.