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Bristol Bay plants running at full speed to keep up with market demand for fresh salmon

While the peak for the Bristol Bay salmon fishery is predicted for later this month, Bristol Bay processors remain hard at work.

"We're at plant capacity," Monte Peters, a production manager with Bristol Bay processor Leader Creek Fisheries, told IntraFish. "We're peaking definitely. We're at full force and are putting as much fish through the plant as humanly possible."

Peters said this year's production levels appear similar to last year's, and predicted this week to be the busiest for the plant this summer.

Silver Bay Seafoods is also processing a volume of fish similar to last year;. In 2018, Bristol Bay recorded the largest sockeye run since 1893 at 62.3 million.

"We are pleased to report 2019 processing of Bristol Bay sockeye is tracking closely to 2018, which was a successful year for Silver Bay Seafoods and our fishermen owners," Abby Fredrick, a special assistant with Silver Bay, told IntraFish.

As of July 7, Bristol Bay's salmon landings of about 23 million fish are 17 percent above 2018 and the five-year average, according to McDowell Group Economist Garrett Evridge. From July 5 through July 7, daily catch rates exceeded 2 million fish, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) statistics.

Fresh and Filet in demand

"There is an awful lot of fish that's being flown out fresh," Norm Van Vactor, CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, told IntraFish recently.

In Dillingham, Alaska, Van Vactor said he has noticed several charter planes flying the fresh fish to domestic markets as as far as Lower 48 states.

A report recently released by Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) has documented a trend of Bristol Bay processors moving toward fresh and fillet production over frozen headed and gutted (H&G) fish as well as canned salmon.

"More and more fishermen are treating fish as a valuable commodity and that's being reflected by the processors and in the distribution system," Van Vactor said of that trend.

Major Alaska processors such as Pacific Seafood are even creating new programs to meet the demand for these product forms.

“We’re currently selling fresh whole fish, fillets, and portions to many of our wholesale, retail, and food service partners," Tyson Yeck, vice president of sales and marketing for Pacific Seafood, told IntraFish.

Bristol Bay salmon harvest peak approaching, say biologists

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Pacific Seafood is also embarking on a new program this year with North Pacific Seafoods to process Bristol Bay salmon at its British Retail Consortium (BRC)-certified facilities, he said.

The frozen portion and fillet program will be available for Pacific seafood customers this fall, and can provide year-round Alaska sockeye salmon.

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