Peter Pan offers $1.10 base price for Bristol Bay sockeyes

Hickman: There is capacity to also send fish to King Cove and Port Moller for processing

Peter Pan Seafoods, under new ownership since January, is starting off in Bristol Bay with a base price of $1.10 a pound for sockeyes just as the season is just getting underway.

It’s part of the company’s new effort to emphasize a commitment to the fishermen and others in the commercial fisheries sector, and to help harvesters and their families plan their finances for the year in this great time of uncertainty, according to a company announcement made at a fleet picnic in Dillingham on Saturday, June 19.

The intent of this initiative is to put the fleet at ease that they will get a fair price for their long hours and hard work in the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, said Jon Hickman, vice president of operations for Peter Pan. In most years, major processors have waited until the bulk of the Bristol Bay harvest is completed to announce the base price.

Peter Pan upped the ante in May for Copper River sockeyes, announcing a base price of $12.60 a pound for reds and $19.60 a pound for Chinooks on the eve of the first harvest.

Hickman said Peter Pan plans to do more processing at home, rather than shipping the salmon overseas, and plans to pay processor workers more too.

“We want to be responsible,” he said.

Veteran Bristol Bay harvester Fritz Johnson, in Dillingham, said the early price point announcement is a positive step, but also noted that back in 1988 harvesters got $2.40 a pound base, minus any chilling and bleeding bonuses.

In 2020 the base price for Bristol Bay sockeyes was 70 cents, so $1.10 a pound is a definite improvement, he said. Still, Johnson said, the cost of doing business is skyrocketing, so some increase in price pressure is warranted. “It cost $10,000 to $15,000 just to float a boat,” he said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists have forecast a run of some 50 million fish into the nine river systems of the Bristol Bay watershed, with a harvest of some 36 million fish.

Nobody knows how the run will come in and whether the classic surge of millions of salmon will show up around the first week of July, a situation that has in the past forced some processors to put a temporary hold on accepting fish at their tenders, so processor workers can catch up.

Hickman said that, if the harvest is more than its Naknek processing plant can handle, Peter Pan will be ready with a number of fishing tenders to take the fish to King Cove and Port Moller, where additional processing capacity is available.

Even as the 2021 Bristol Bay fishery gets underway the unsettled controversy over the Pebble mine on the edge of the Bristol Bay watershed continues to loom, now with a new twist which is giving mine opponents hope.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has sent back to the district court level a Trout Unlimited lawsuit backed by mine opponents, including Bristol Bay tribes and environmental entities, challenging a 2019 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that removed protections for the watershed. The lower court must now consider if the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the Obama-era EPA 404(c) proposed determination was based on arbitrary reasoning.

The appeals court found that the EPA needs to consider whether unacceptable adverse effects are likely to occur when it withdraws a Clean Water Act 404(c) proposed determination. Trout Unlimited applauded the appeals court decision, and called on the EPA to proceed expeditiously to a final determination that protects the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership, a subsidiary of Canada’s Northern Dynasty Minerals, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he had no comment at the time. Chris Wood, chief executive officer of Trout Unlimited, called the circuit court’s ruling a significant win for Bristol Bay. “This decision brings us another step closer to permanent protections for this place and all who depend on it,” he said.

The court must listen to the science, the lengthy Obama/Biden administration’s record of support, and to people who live in Bristol Bay who are unified in calling for a 404(c) veto, said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, the consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments, who represent over 80% of the region’s total population.

“When the Trump administration stripped away clean water protections for Bristol Bay, it was about politics, not science,” said Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState. Now is the time for the Biden administration to move to end this case and put strong, scientifically rigorous protections back in place, he said.