Juneau's largest seafood-processing company is seeing more of the region's fish sales lost to salmon farms.
Sandro Lane, owner of Taku Smokeries and Fisheries, said the overall salmon season was "standard" for the fishery, judging by the fish brought in for primary processing. While the number of sockeyes increased, the number of chums decreased.
Prices have also remained low, which he blames on the growing interest from domestic and international retailers in farmed fish from Chile and Norway.
"We've been hit very hard by farming," Lane said. "It's getting harder and harder for fisherman to compete with the farmed salmon industry. It's hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel."
Salmon farms, banned in Alaska, are used elsewhere to raise fish of specific sizes and qualities, meeting the specifications of the marketplace year-round. Wild salmon caught by fishermen vary in size, quality and quantity and are only available fresh during certain times of the year.
Alaska's seafood industry, however, markets wild salmon as better tasting and healthier for the environment.
Lane said because labor used to raise farmed fish is cheaper and the farms can produce an
incredibly high volume of fish on demand, it will always be harder for Alaska's wild-fish industry to compete. He also said farmed fish have glutted the market, making Alaska salmon less attractive or unnecessary to some buyers.
On the up side, Lane said lower prices could mean salmon is reaching the plates of people who couldn't afford it in the past. This could bring a broader buyer base down the line.
"People used to think of salmon as a high-end food, and it had a certain snob factor to it," he said. "But if the price is cheaper it can reach a broader array of pocketbook ranges."
In the meantime, Lane said his business will end its salmon season and continue to process and smoke fish such as halibut and black cod, which are caught during a larger part of the year. He said Taku Smokeries will also spend the fall and winter filling mail-order smoked salmon gift basket orders, which dominate his business during the holiday season.
Another Juneau seafood-processing business is seeing little impact from farmed salmon, largely because it mostly handles sport-caught fish.
Alaska Seafood Co. owner Dick Hand said his canning operation is prospering since getting out of the fresh fish business four years ago.
Hand said his business sees a different variety of fish, which is the nature of his market. There was an increase this year in the number of chums the company received to be canned and processed, while cohos were down.
However, because Hand's operation is not a primary processor, his business is not directly affected by fish farming. And he doesn't see another business trying to take over his market sector.
"We don't have much competition in that area," Hand said. "We have a good niche market. I think the market isn't big enough for them to want to get into it. I suppose they could try to get into it, and that would have a definite effect but I don't think they will."
Melanie Plenda can be reached at juneauempire.com.
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