ADF&G has released the 2018 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon processing capacity survey summary, and to the surprise of almost no one, the 12 processors surveyed, which account for 99.4 percent of the processing capacity, have all said that they will be able to handle the expected run in the upcoming season.
The 2018 sockeye return is expected to be around 51.3 million fish, with a harvest of 37 million or so.
However, the 2017 harvest came in 37 percent above the forecast, and it is anyone’s guess how many will actually return next year.
If the processors indicate that they will not be able to meet the capacity needs, it would open the doors for the governor to allow floating processors from other countries to come to Bristol Bay to buy fish and help handle the overflow.
Erick Sabo, long-time Bristol Bay fisherman, said that processors have several reasons why they put fishermen on daily catch limits nearly every year, such as the run all coming in at once, or the run size being larger than expected, that negates the need for extra processing capacity during the yearly survey.
“They can do a survey any time, and if they have the right run timing, they can handle twice (the capacity) they’re doing now,” he said. “Any time that the wind blows and the run comes in double what (sampling station) Port Moller said the day before, they’re never going to keep up.
“It all comes down to tender capacity, and last year was processor capacity. They had fish sitting on tenders, but they couldn’t get to the plant, because the plants weren’t running efficiently.”
He said all the plants had worker problems, but Silver Bay in particular had issues with worker dissatisfaction.
Other plants had problems getting foreign workers because of issues with the H1B visa program.
Sabo said he does not expect anything to change any time.
“They’re going to say they can handle it, because as soon as they say they can’t handle it, then the Governor is going to look at foreign processing or what they can do to alleviate it, but they’re never going to say, ‘we don’t have the capacity.’”
He added that one major processor has a floater that may still be out of operation this year.
“You would think that processor would say ‘our capacity is going to be down.’”
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.