Bristol Bay fishermen seek state’s help on prices

A group of Bristol Bay fishermen have started a petition to have a mediator from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development intervene between Bristol Bay fishermen and the processors to negotiate a fair price prior to next season after being paid a base price of 50 cents this season.

Based on Alaska Statute 16.10.280, if one-third of Bristol Bay permit holders, or about 900 individuals, sign the petition, the state will assign a mediator.

The 50 cent base price is compared to $1.20 paid last year and compared to an average of $2.01 paid in Prince William Sound and an average of $1.59 paid in Upper Cook Inlet this season.

It’s also lower than the 78 cents paid for sockeye in Chignik this season, and 60 cents in Area M, the Alaska Peninsula. 

The only area that matched Bristol Bay’s low price is the Kuskokwim District, which only delivered 57,000 sockeye.

The low price comes on the heels of processors pushing Bristol Bay fishermen to either take ice or install expensive chilling systems to improve quality and, presumably, prices. An estimated 80 percent of the boats in the area have done so.

Salmon fishermen in Alaska have gotten accustomed to fishing on an “open ticket,” where no price is put on the fish ticket at the time of delivery. Most processors notify fishermen of the price they can expect at the start of the season, and any changes during the season.

The 50-cent price in Bristol Bay was not announced until around July 21, toward the end of the season.

According to a letter to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten that accompanies the petition, “Fishermen are ... being informed that 2016 may not be any better, i.e., 50 cents or less per pound.”

The petition says sales data indicate $3.12 per pound for the 4 to 6 pound market, and $2.57 per pound for the 2 to 4 pound fish. Historically the base price for Bistol Bay sockeye has been approximately 37-38 percent of wholesale frozen headed and gutted prices.

If it were following historical trends, that would have meant around $1.20 again for this year’s fish. 

At press time 740 supporters had signed the petition; however, it is not known if they were all Bristol Bay permit holders, which is a requirement for the petition to take effect.

The petition can be found at  https://www.change.org/p/sam-cotten-commissioner-of-the-alaska-departmen....

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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