Potential Supply of Sockeye Salmon

To the Japanese Market in 2000


Prepared by


Gunnar Knapp

Professor of Economics

University of Alaska Anchorage

3211 Providence Drive

Anchorage, Alaska 99508

907 786-7717 (telephone)

907-786-7739 (fax)

afgpk@uaa.alaska.edu (e-mail)


April 2000


Sockeye salmon is an important component of the supply of salmon to the Japanese market. The supply of sockeye salmon affects overall market price levels, including pricing of farmed coho and trout.

This paper briefly examines the potential supply of sockeye salmon to the Japanese market in 2000. I discuss the following topics:

Potential Alaska Sockeye Salmon Harvest in 2000

Alaska Harvest Projections for 2000

Each year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) prepares projections for Alaska salmon harvests, by species and area. ADF&G also prepares a detailed discussion of the projections for the Bristol Bay fishery, which is the most important component of the Alaska sockeye salmon harvest. These projections may be found on the web site of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The University of Washington Fisheries Research Institute (FRI) also prepares projections each year of the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon harvest (but not other Alaska harvests). These projections, including a detailed discussion of methodology and projection issues, may be found on the FRI website at


Table 1 summarizes the ADF&G and FRI harvest projections for 2000. The ADF&G official projection for the Bristol Bay catch is 22.3 million fish, based on a forecasted total Bristol Bay run of 35.4 million fish. However, ADF&G emphasizes that the projection is highly uncertain, with a "forecast range" for the total run of 18.2-52.7 million fish. They state:

"Because our forecasts are based on statistical relationships that have been observed in the recent past, we are always nervously looking for reasons to think that past conditions have changed." This year we are puzzled by the age distribution of salmon in a number of last year's fisheries. We usually assume that a large return of younger fish predicts a larger return of their older siblings in the following year. . . We don't know if these younger fish indicated a change in the year of ocean return, or if they indicate a coming increase in production."

"We do not know why Bristol Bay sockeye salmon returns in 1996-1998 were poor and whether decreased production will persist in the near future or if this was only a short-term anomaly. . . Last season's relatively large return is insufficient evidence to conclude that the 1977-95 production will continue."

Table 1

FRI presents four alternative projections of the Bristol Bay harvest, ranging from 11.2 million fish to 38.6 miilion fish, based on alternative scientific hypotheses. They state:

"We recognize that this uncertainty makes preseason planning extremely difficult, but we believe it is the best assessment given available data."

Harvest Projections for Past Years

Another indication of the uncertainty of pre-season projections for the sockeye harvest is provided by past projections of Alaska sockeye harvests. As illustrated by Figure 1, substantial differences between actual harvests and projected harvests have been common.


Figure 1

Figure 2

Long-Term Outlook for Alaska Sockeye Harvests

As illustrated by Figure 2, Alaska sockeye salmon harvests were at historically high levels in the 1980s and early 1990s. Scientists believe that these high harvests were the result of many different factors, one of which was favorable conditions for ocean survival. A "regime shift" in North Pacific Ocean conditions could change ocean survival and potentially bring a period of lower sockeye salmon harvests. However, there is no apparent agreement among scientists as to whether or when this might happen.

Summary: Potential 2000 Alaska Sockeye Salmon Harvest

The ADF&G projection is for a total Alaska sockeye salmon harvest of 41 million fish. However, the uncertainty expressed by the scientists who prepared the proejctions, as well as the experience of recent years, suggests that the actual harvest could easily range from 70% to 150% of this projection (Table 2)

Table 2

This suggests that the following assumptions are reasonable:

Medium (ADF&G projection) 41.0 million fish

Low (70% of than ADF&G projection) 28.7 million fish

High (150% of ADF&G projection) 61.5 million fish


Relationship Between Alaska Sockeye Salmon Harvests

and Japanese Imports of Alaska Sockeye

As shown by Table 3, there is wide variation in the relationship between the Alaska sockeye salmon harvest (in millions of fish) and Japanese imports of frozen sockeye salmon from Alaska. This relationship is not stable, and there is no obvious relationship between the size of the catch and the ratio of Japanese imports to the Alaska harvest. Variation in the import/harvest ratio reflects year to year variation in the following factors:

Table 3

The importance of variation in the import/harvest ratio is reflected in the fact that the total Alaska sockeye harvest (in millions of fish) was similar in 1996 and 1999, but Japanese imports were dramatically smaller in 1999.


Potential Japanese Imports of Alaska Sockeye in 2000

Table 4 illustrates different potential Japanese imports of Alaska sockeye based on different combinations of Alaska harvests and import/harvest ratios. As can be seen, these different combinations result in a very wide range of potential supply of Alaska sockeye to the Japanese market. It is most likely that Japanese imports will be in the middle range implied by the table--about 50 thousand metric tons. The extreme combinations of assumptions implied by the corner cells of the table seem less likely. Even if we eliminate these less likely scenarios, however, it is possible to envision Japanese imports of Alaska sockeye ranging from 30 to 80 million metric tons--or approximately the same as the range of actual imports over the past five years.

Table 4