PETERSBURG - Commercial shrimpers in Southeast are being warned to maintain quality or Japanese buyers won't be interested in purchasing Alaska shrimp.
The warning comes after Japanese buyers were disappointed with some of the spot shrimp that came from Alaska last season.
Alaska exports 900,000 pounds of shrimp to Japan each year. About 100,000 pounds of product from last season was rejected as poor quality. With a dock price of $6 a pound, that was costly for Japanese buyers and processors.
Sea Plus Marketing owner Ray Leitch said his Japanese clients are taking a closer look at Alaska's product referred to as "frozen-head-on" shrimp.
"We had a problem last year with a lot of product that came out of there with poor quality. The fisherman didn't understand how to process it properly," he said. "The companies that do buy product from Alaska kind of backed off."
Leitch said at the start of the season Japanese buyers said they would buy only spot shrimp from Canada. But with a 40 percent price reduction they have since started negotiating for some product from Alaska.
Last season dock prices were excellent for frozen head-on spots ranged from $5 to $7 a pound. This season processors are paying a maximum of $3 a pound.
Leitch said there are some additional factors impacting the market. Russia is shipping double the amount of shrimp to Japan as it did last year. Canada also has an abundance of shrimp left over from the summer season and Argentina has introduced huge amounts of shrimp at significantly lower prices.
Many Alaska permit holders who are new to the fishery wanted to cash in on last season's unusually high prices, but catching and processing shrimp with heads on is a detailed and delicate process, said Norquest Seafoods Fleet Manager John Scoblic.
"Keeping the shrimp alive is a pretty detail-oriented process. The shrimp must be alive to ingest the preservative and then they have to be handled correctly, sized correctly and frozen correctly and presented in a very meticulous manner that is appealing to the Japanese eye when they open the box," he said.
This season Norquest is more carefully assessing quality.
"We are tightening up our standards on what we will accept and how we want things packed," he said.