International Trade:

Factors Affecting the Price of Alaskan Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon

NSIAD-91-322: Published: Sep 13, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 7, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the principal economic factors that have contributed to the low prices commercial fishermen received for their fiscal year (FY) 1991 sockeye salmon catch in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

GAO found that: (1) the preliminary FY 1991 price per pound was about 36 percent less than the price paid for the FY 1990 season's catch and 56 percent less than the price paid for the FY 1989 season's catch; (2) the FY 1991 price of 70 cents a pound stands in contrast to the decade high price of $2.10 a pound in FY 1988 and to the FY 1981 to FY 1990 average yearly price of $1.09 a pound; (3) one factor contributing to the low price paid for Bristol Bay sockeye in FY 1991 is the high salmon inventory remaining in Japan at the end of FY 1990; (4) Japan was the most dominant in the Alaska sockeye market, and in FY 1988 almost 90 percent of Alaska's sockeye production was shipped to Japan; (5) the size of the Bristol Bay catch, the salmon inventory in Japan, and the competitive importance of farmed salmon in the Japanese market, have all led to the downward pressure on the FY 1991 prices for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon; (6) the increase in high quality salmon in Japan compounded the downward pressure on prices for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, since Japanese wholesalers were increasingly looking for higher quality at a given price in determining which species and how much to buy; and (7) because the majority of the large Bristol Bay harvest were caught within 10 days of the 6-week season, many fish were not handled well.

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