Cleaner Fishing

Weaker Yen Threatens Prices for Alaska Salmon

By Laine Welch, Anchorage Daily – April 27, 1997

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A weakening yen is an important factor that affects the prices of any fish destined for Japan.

Last year, Japan accounted for 62 percent of the value of Alaska salmon exports.  According to Currents, a journal of salmon market trends compiled by the Salmon Market Information Service, most economists predict the yen will remain relatively weak for the rest of this year.

A weak yen can hurt Alaska by making Alaska salmon more expensive for the Japanese.  Japanese buyers then drop their prices to try to offset the fading yen.

Lots of variables affect the yen/dollar balance, such as changes in interest rates and trade deficits or surpluses.  The greater the number of yen needed to buy one dollar, the ”weaker” the yen and the ”stronger” the dollar.  Last Friday, for example, the yen was trading at 126 yen to the dollar.  A Japanese importer needing to pay for fish or other goods in dollars would provide 126 yen for each dollar needed to complete a purchase.

That’s far different from a couple of years ago, when the yen was relatively strong.  Then, importers could have gotten a dollar for as few as 82 yen.  But the yen has been weakening — and the dollar strengthening — for more than a year.  By last April, a dollar was worth 107 yen.  Now the dollar is worth 126 yen.

How does a strong dollar/weak yen hurt Alaska?  As a rule of thumb, when the value of the dollar increases just one yen — such as from 125 to 126 yen per dollar — prices paid to Alaska fishermen can fall by one penny a pound.

Cleaner Fishing

Some trawlers are taking the lead in reducing the take of unwanted species in their fisheries.
A group called the Groundfish Forum Inc. got a green light to test a new net designed to reduce catches of pollock and cod while retaining adequate amounts of flatfish.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council this month gave unanimous approval to an experimental fishing permit to test the net for two weeks in August in certain areas of the Bering Sea.  The net, designed by researchers at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, has an open panel in the intermediate portion of the trawl, where only net straps instead of meshes are present.  The permit responds directly to the council’s program calling for full retention of pollock and cod starting next year, and yellowfin sole and rocksole starting in 2002.

The net test is just one of several waste-reduction measures initiated in recent years by the Groundfish Forum, a group formed by 13 mostly single-boat, family-owned companies that target flatfish, Atka mackerel and rockfish.  Two years ago the group voluntarily began using a data-reporting program called Sea State to identify bycatch hot spots.  The program, run by a private contractor, uses satellite transmission of unprocessed observer data every 24 hours.  Sea State rapidly converts it into plotted bycatch rate assessments and relays the information to vessels via fax or computer.  The program in 1995 enabled the head-and-gut rocksole fleet to reduce red king crab bycatch to 19,341 crab, a seven-fold decrease from 1994.

According to Groundfish Forum director, John Gauvin, the group this year has also requested closures to all trawling in certain areas that for unknown reasons suddenly began showing high rates of crab bycatch.

Fishing Initiative Resurfaces

Legislators are set to revisit a proposal to allocate a 5 percent salmon harvest priority to sport users, this time dubbed HB149 by state Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla.  The House Special Fisheries Committee will take testimony during two teleconferences set for 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday at local Legislative Information Offices. The Anchorage office is at 716 W. Fourth Ave.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her information column appears every other Sunday.