Off Topic - Cost of Fish
- This way off topic, considering Slovakia is landlocked and the Poprad River may be the only Slovak river that has salmon in season, but for any of us who wondered at the high cost of fish, this is the best writeup I have ever read.
Why reds [salmon] cost what they do at the store
The whine of an anglehead grinder biting into aluminum jarred me to wakefulness just before 6 a.m. I felt a momentary irritation -- not at the waking, but at the thought that someone was up and moving before me.
However, this is Bristol Bay -- never expect to be the first to rise nor the last to bed. The fishing fleet is stirring to life, readying for the largest red salmon run in the world to arrive in western Alaska.
Fishermen are early, perhaps because of the profitable season last year. An air of optimism floods the boatyard. Expectations of a solid run and rising fish prices fuel the upbeat atmosphere.
Price is a hot topic. Bristol Bay is synonymous with red salmon, and since the late 1990s prices have trended upward.
Improved handling by fishermen and processors have made these salmon some of the best in the world. Most Bristol Bay reds end up in the Japanese market, where the appetite for fish is as big as the run. However, the U.S. domestic market is absorbing an increasing share of the catch.
Should one buy a fresh sockeye at the grocery store, anything under $5 per pound would be a good price.
Bristol Bay fishermen would smile hugely if they received a base price of 85 cents per pound. To be sure, there are a few premium processors with refrigerated vessels who deal with small fleet numbers and pay closer to $1 per pound. But most fishermen can expect something in the range of 80 cents.
How do we get from 80 cents per pound on the vessel to nearly $5 per pound in the marketplace?
It may come as a revelation to learn there are no robber barons as middlemen. Here is a simplified look at how the system works. The processor pays $4.80 for a six pound sockeye. Add a .12 per pound tendering, or transport fee, to get the fish from the boat to the processing plant.
At the plant, the cost to process is approximately $1 per pound. Bristol Bay is a great distance from any workforce, so individual canners or freezers must import, house and feed workers for a month-long season. After processing, it will cost another 12 to 15 cents to transport the fish from Bristol Bay to the marketplace. And, of course, there's a 30 percent processing loss for head, entrails, slime, etc.
The 6-pound red salmon now has a cost of $11.50 and weighs under 4 1/2 pounds.
What you buy fresh at market is likely a No. 1 fish -- that is a fish with no real blemishes or bruises. A well-run fleet will produce approximately 60 percent No. 1 fish as well as 30 percent of No. 2 quality and a small number of lesser quality. Lower grades are worth considerably less, yet the buyer paid the same price at the vessel.
The processor adds his profit. On large volumes, brokers working as middlemen find storefront markets. If sales are not sharp, there could be some shelf loss at the store.
Other factors may play in as well. Buyers usually pay with borrowed money. Product may need to be stored for extended periods. The fresh fish market is relatively small; consumers cannot eat 20 million reds while they are fresh.
The fresh market is important, though, as it may help the buyer offset some major costs that stack up during the remainder of the season. Storage costs and loss of value through shelf life must also be absorbed by the industry.
Considering all that, $5 per pound seems a little more reasonable.
Consumers' best bet for fresh, well-handled fish at a good price is to buy direct from commercial fishermen; his costs will be lower and the fish will be fresher.
Should you buy direct from the boat, the fisherman must hold a catcher/seller license from the state. Also, unless he holds a processing permit and works through a certified facility, the catch can be gutted and gilled only, with the head on.
An increasing number of commercial fishermen market their own catch. This bodes well for the consumer looking for quality and reasonable cost. If you relish red salmon, the next few weeks are among the best times of the year.
John Schandelmeier of Paxson is a lifelong Alaskan and Bristol Bay commercial fisherman. A former champion of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, he was trail coordinator for this year's Quest and has written on the outdoors for several newspapers and magazines.
Read more: http://www.adn.com