Business

Sockeye market volatile, say industry experts

An expected surge of fresh sockeye supply has prices dropping, but retailers and wholesalers alike warn that costs could be unpredictable throughout the season.  - Angela Cowan/News Gazette staff
An expected surge of fresh sockeye supply has prices dropping, but retailers and wholesalers alike warn that costs could be unpredictable throughout the season.
— image credit: Angela Cowan/News Gazette staff

A surge in sockeye numbers and fishing runs in the Fraser river has prices dropping for the fresh catches, but retailers and wholesalers alike say good deals on the fish are unpredictable.

At Western Foods, which has locations in Langford and Sooke, the retail price is expected to drop dramatically, said director Laura Lum.

“I heard about a big run this year,” she said, noting their cost on sockeye was expected to drop by almost half this week. “You’ll see some great deals coming up.”

Meanwhile, John MacAulay, meat and seafood manager for the Market on Millstream, says while they’ve seen some lowering of prices, their Victoria and Vancouver wholesale suppliers haven’t cut costs substantially.

“Prices have come down a bit – they may come further,” he said. “I don’t think there’s really been large numbers of sockeye hitting the market yet. Hopefully we’ll see a further decrease in prices.”

Sockeye salmon is a commodity in a volatile market, said Jason Bater, seafood category manager for Thrifty Foods. Not only that, he said, its popularity has been largely driven by its visual appeal.

“I believe it’s a case of we eat with our eyes. That bright red colour that sockeye has is so visually appealing, so beautiful on the plate.”

Bater said sockeye sources and availability can change rapidly, leading to just as rapid price fluctuations.

“Conditions in the fisheries can change overnight,” he said. “The cost today might not necessarily be the cost tomorrow.”

Erin Coulson, communications manager for Thrifty’s in Victoria, said the company has “made the conscious decision to stay with the local supplier to bring in Johnstone Strait fish.” Because extra fisheries that have opened have so far been further up the Fraser River, any price changes resulting from a surge of sockeye aren’t likely to affect Thrifty’s prices, she added.

The Johnstone Strait fishery has been “going strong” and will open again this week, according to Neil Kipling, purchaser for wholesaler Albion Fisheries. They’re also hoping to see a larger Fraser River opening, which could lead to a further drop in prices, he said.

“Part of the softening (of prices) of sockeye is the Fraser River forecast, and based on that speculation, it will continue to drop.”

While prices this year are clearly much lower than last year, the comparison isn’t completely accurate, said Terry Yoshikawa, also a buyer for Albion.

“As far as last year was concerned, there was no fishery. There were a lot of river systems that were closed,” he said, adding that this year is similar to the surge that happened in 2010.

“This year we might even see the fish run until early to mid-September.”

acowan@goldstreamgazette.com

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