Alaska sockeye market shifts away from Japan

Sockeye in stream. (Photo by Watershed_Watch / flickr)

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The demand for Alaska sockeye has shifted away from some of the traditional Asian markets.

McDowell Group seafood economist Andy Wink says in the early 2000s, most Bristol Bay sockeye was fated to either be canned or shipped frozen to Japan. He says that’s a much smaller part of the market now – about a third of the volume of Alaska sockeye.

“It’s been an amazing transformation and that’s not something that just happens by itself. That took a lot of investment. A lot of foresight and planning. And a lot of really good work over those 15 years to develop new markets in the U.S. and in Europe.”

According to the McDowell Group’s 2017 Fall sockeye market analysis, in 2016, “only 34 percent of Alaska sockeye production went to Japanese or canned markets.”

As outlined in the same analysis, the seafood industry struggled across the board in the early 2000s. Wink says the state and federal government eventually solved many of those issues with grants, infrastructure, and marketing.

He says the industry is now in a better place because of it.

“I mean, we had that downturn in pricing in 2015 and 2016, but we’ve recovered a lot faster, and there’s several reasons for that, but one of them is that we’re much more diversified in terms of our markets and our products, and that just means that when one market isn’t as strong, we’ve got other places to put fish, and that’s super important.”

The analysis goes over some other elements that affected the American market’s increasing demand for sockeye salmon.

That includes higher fish quality resulting from sockeye fishermen chilling their harvest and consumers’ growing awareness of the benefits of wild sockeye over farmed salmon.

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