North Coast salmon market ‘flooded’
By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Amid one of the best fishing seasons in almost a decade, commercial salmon fisherman on the North Coast are tying up their
boats and will stay in port for the next few days in an attempt to drive up prices.
“The market is flooded and we need to let the market clear out,” said Chuck Cappotto of Gualala, president of the Fishermen’s Marketing Association of Bodega Bay.
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North Coast commercial fishermen have seen the price paid for their hauls cut in half over the last two months. Though the ample supply of salmon is one factor blamed for the erosion of prices, it has also created a a much-welcomed bounty for recreational fishermen on the North Coast.
“It has been red hot,” said Bodega Bay skipper Rick Powers, who runs charter trips for sports fishermen on his boat, the New Sea Angler.
“We have run 42 trips in a row. The fishing is absolutely excellent and the weather wonderful,” Powers said. “The recreation season is still going full bore.”
The commercial salmon season started in May with fishermen getting $6.25 a pound, but the price had dropped to $3.25 by the middle of last week. It has continued to slide, falling to $2.75 a pound by Saturday.
“It is very difficult for guy to make money when the price goes below $3.50 a pound, with the cost of gas and ice as it is,” Cappotto said.
Along with an abundance of fish, there are other market complications: Fresh-caught salmon prices are usually high and compete against cheaper farm-raised salmon and frozen salmon.
“I don’t know that demand has dropped off, but there are more options,” said Todd Davis, seafood buyer for Oliver’s Markets. “The farm salmon has become more popular, it is substantially cheaper. And the frozen Alaskan Sockeye salmon has become more popular, it is also less expensive.”
Still, Davis said, there is demand for locally-caught fresh salmon, for sells for $16.99 a pound at Oliver’s.
“When the local season breaks, we get a lot of phone calls. It definitely increases our sales, without a doubt,” Davis said.
G&G Supermarket is charging $5.99 a pound for whole, fresh-caught salmon, said Teejay Lowe, chief executive officer.
“There have been years the salmon is so scarce that people cannot afford to buy it, but now there is enough to match the demand in the market place,” Lowe said. “Our philosophy is if we get a great deal on a product, we will pass it on to our customers. That is why you are looking at a $5.99 a pound price.”
Based on the large number of salmon biologists believe are in the ocean, the commercial season this year was set by federal regulators in three segments. The first ran from May 1 to June 4; the second began June 27 and goes through Aug. 29; the final period runs from Sept. 1 to 30.
It is the longest commercial salmon season since 2004 and follows complete closures in 2008 and 2009 and short seasons in 2010 and 2011.
Chris Lawson, a commercial fisherman from Bodega Bay, said boats are bringing in 60 to 80 fish a day, which are considered good catches even though it doesn’t match 100-fish days in the season’s heydays.
“There are a lot of fish. It is the best season since 2003, but now it has gotten to the point where it is not profitable on our end,” Lawson said.
Cappotto said that most of the fishing fleet came into port at Bodega Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay on Sunday night after four days of fishing and others were trickling in on Monday. They intend to stay in port for several days to see if they can push up the price salmon, he said.
“It is just a voluntary tie-up and no one goes fishing until the market clears up,” Cappotto said.