Final forecasts for the 2011 salmon season

Final forecasts for the 2011 salmon season won’t be out for a few weeks, but early indicators point to another good fishery. Total Alaska catches are likely to be close to last year’s 168 million salmon, perhaps down slightly. And industry watchers predict the continuing strong demand will mean good prices for wild salmon.

Many market factors bode well for Alaska but forecasts for wild salmon returns in Pacific Coast fisheries are a mixed bag, with low to modest expectations for all harvests.

Salmon scientists are still scratching their heads over the 2010 sockeye runs at British Columbia’s Fraser River. Everyone was surprised when red returns approached 30 million, compared to just one million in 2009. Most believe last year’s strong showing does not indicate a turnaround for Fraser sockeyes, says market expert Ken Talley. Instead, evidence is mounting that last year’s big run was a fluke. Bets are on a modest return of Fraser River reds this summer

Ongoing woes with Alaska’s biggest competitor farmed salmon from Chile – will keep wild salmon more competitive. Chile’s multi-billion dollar farmed salmon industry collapsed two years ago due to a deadly fish virus. Gunnar Knapp is a fisheries economist at the University of Alaska/Anchorage.

‘As a result, that has kept the Chilean growers from expanding their production as much as they had expected, and it has helped to keep the salmon market somewhat stronger than it might have been if the Chileans had been producing as much as people expected them to.’

Through last October Chile had sent about 50 million pounds of Atlantic salmon in all forms to the U. S., Ken Talley says, a drop of nearly 57% from 2009. The decline has forced higher first wholesale prices — $4.72/lb for Chilean farmed salmon is an increase of over 25%. The narrower price differentials between wild and farmed salmon has made wild fish much more competitive with buyers — at a time when wild is gaining more appeal overall. Chile’s woes won’t be over anytime soon industry officials told Intrafish that the farmed salmon industry has ‘no chance’ of returning to normal by 2013, as has been reported. Chile’s industry also faces strict new rules to prevent a repeat of the fish virus which will increase production costs by 30%.

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