Bristol Bay fishers plan protest of low salmon prices

Fishermen in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Fishermen in Bristol Bay, Alaska, U.S.A. are planning a protest on Thursday, 20 July of low salmon prices being offered by the fishery’s processors.

As the season unfolded in early July the fleet began fishing on an “open ticket,” meaning that prices hadn’t yet been announced by major processors. When major processors came out with the announcement of a base price of USD 0.50 (EUR 0.44), some members of the fleet proposed a friendly protest near Naknek, Alaska. The protest has been staged for July 20, but the looming question is whether thousands of fishermen can band together with enough solidarity and force processors to nudge up the prices.

“There are too many variables out here,” said Harry Moore, a lifelong drift fisherman from Naknek. “The fish came in later this year and didn’t hit until 10 July. “It was slow developing, so there are a lot of guys trying to make it up fishing the run on the back end. Then you’ve got guys who’ve got quite a few fish already, and their attitude is just to grind it out and put in a few more pounds.”

Pessimistic predictions even in May had pegged dockside offers of around USD 0.50 per pound, and the pricing announcement on 17 July confirmed the fleet’s worst fears.

To those who’ve participated in the fishery for more than a half-century, ex-vessel prices echo the cataclysmic offers of the 1980s.

“I fished for USD 0.50 in 1975, and I was glad to have it,” said Moore, who has seen at least three strikes for better prices turn ugly. “We saw USD 0.50 again in the early ’80s. Again in the ’90s. Most recently around 2003.”

Moore said he remembers groups who broke the strikes and retaliation that involved burning trucks, ATVs, and other belongings of fishermen deemed scabs by those who stayed tied to the docks.

Fishermen have always suspected that processors band together to set base prices in years when a large volume of fish has been predicted. The issue of price fixing has gone to court twice since the 1980s, but in both cases, judges ruled in favor of the processors.

Organizers of this year’s protest hoped to garner the attention of the media and invited captains and crews to join via their Facebook group. The fishermen plan to anchor across the Naknek River on 20 July from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. 

“We are protesting extremely low prices offered by the processors after they have possession of our fish,” said Rhonda Blough, a fisherman whose husband is the owner and captain of the F/V Get Lost, and who is hosting the protest. “Our goal is to bring political and media attention to our plight. We have suffered lower and lower prices at the same time being asked to make large capital investments to increase our quality."

To some, protests fall short of a more impactful solution, which would be to cut off supplies of fish.

“This fleet is way overcapitalized,” Moore said. “You think you’re going to pay for a USD 1.2 million [EUR 1.1 million] drift boat with USD 0.50 fish? The only way to send a message is to pull out and go home right now.”

Reporting by Charlie Ess

Photo courtesy of Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association


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