The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association petitions for price mediation. On July 18, Trident Seafood and other buyers posted a base price of $0.50 per pound for sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, which sent shock waves through the industry.
Around 100 fishermen staged a strike on July 20, but with most of the 2023 fish caught, they had no leverage. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) has taken a different course and launched a petition to the State of Alaska to mediate between buyers and fishermen for a better price, or at least a better explanation for the low price.
“Our understanding is this process doesn’t allow for the State adjusting prices, but we believe it will at least provide more transparency and create a safer space to discuss issues that involve antitrust stuff,” says Andy Wink, executive director of the BBRSDA. “No one wants to violate those laws, as the penalties are huge. Maybe it will show there could be higher prices paid, but our belief is that we’ll at least get more information, which fishermen should have.”
Some fishermen have started to talk about forming a union, which Wink considers a gamble. “Let’s say a group of 100 fishermen that sell to a certain buyer say they aren’t fishing without an agreed upon price. If the buyer says no, then fishermen’s only options are: Don’t fish; try to fish for someone else who would offer an agreement; or start some co-op or joint venture company – which would be a longer-term solution.”
Wink notes that the third option presents the highest risk but offers the only way to truly guarantee that fishermen are getting a fair share of wholesale value if processing companies aren’t willing to offer a pre-season contract.
“Hopefully, companies will be willing to negotiate,” says Wink. “We think this mediation effort could lay some groundwork for that.”
How mediation would be structured, as well as where and when it would take place, have yet to be determined. “The state has never gone through this process, so it’s not all laid out,” says Wink. “I’m guessing there will be some attorneys involved and some face-to-face meetings, probably in Juneau or Anchorage. I’m not sure when. We have to get the signatures first, and we still have a long ways to go.”
Click here to read the petition in full – permit holders can sign it.