do you see a problem?… part II

When Wal-Mart makes an investment in anything — people tend to pay attention. Wal-Mart’s tag line these days is: “Save money. Live better” .

(I’m not entirely sure whether that tag line is referring to Wal-Mart shoppers — or if they have been so brash as to simply state the mission of Wal-Mart ownership…)

“Saving” shoppers money generally means that goods sold in Wal-Mart stores need to be acquired at significant discounts. Sometimes Wal-Mart can do that through sheer volume buying — or they utilize pretty shady practices to ensure they are acquiring goods as cheap as possible (i.e. manufacture in other countries), or they simply have their goods made (or stores built) by the absolute lowest bidder.

Here is an illuminating quote from U.S. Congress representative Bernie Sanders from 2004:

Wal-Mart has replaced General Motors as the largest employer in America with over 1 million employees where, instead of earning a middle class wage, workers earn starvation wages of $13, 681 per year a salary that is below the poverty line. Meanwhile four out of the top ten richest people in America are relatives of Sam Walton Wal-Marts’ founder, and are worth over $100 billion.

I can only imagine what the situation is now – over 6 years later.

As mentioned in a post the other day (there is probably no connection… Wal-Mart, Marine Stewardship Council, 2011…) there is a worrisome link between Wal-Mart and MSC.

Wal-Mart is now probably one of the biggest sellers of seafood in the United States. Wal-Mart has suggested all wild seafood sold in stores needs to be “ecocertified” by 2011. The Marine Stewardship Council is “ecocertifying” fisheries faster than a grizzly bear knocks salmon out of a river in Alaska (see earlier posts under tag of “Marine Stewardship Council”).

A curious headline — from 2008 Anchorage Daily News:

Alaskans Welcome Major New Wal-Mart Investment in Wild Bristol Bay Salmon

In their letter to Wal-Mart, representatives of the United Fishermen of Alaska, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and Alaska Independent Seafood Marketing Association wrote, “As Bristol Bay fishermen, we are proud of our sustainably managed, Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery and our healthy, wild salmon products. Your choice to buy our sockeye salmon represents an important investment in both the economic and ecological health of the Bristol Bay region.”

I’m a bit confused by all of this fuss. The 2007 report The Great Salmon Run by G. Knapp, Roheim, and Anderson out of the University of Anchorage point out that the most important markets for frozen and canned sockeye salmon (by far the biggest fishery 182.3 million pounds this past year in Bristol Bay, next closest fishery was chum fishery with 8.6 million pounds) is Japan and the United Kingdom.

I don’t have the numbers – however I am guessing that the Japanese market is paying more for frozen sockeye salmon than Wal-Mart. If so, couldn’t these higher prices benefit local fisherfolks?

The 2007 report states:

The most important market for sockeye salmon is the Japanese frozen salmon market…More than twice as much U.S. fresh and frozen wild salmon is exported than sold in the U.S. domestic market.

So I’m not clear — why are folks excited about Wal-Mart involvement in the Alaskan salmon market?

The Japanese market is huge at over 500,000 metric tonnes a year with approximately 80,000 – 100,000 metric tonnes of wild North American salmon (and 250,000 – 300,000 metric tonnes of Russian and Japanese “wild” salmon 95% of Japanese catch is salmon ranching).

The U.S. market is a little more than half of the Japanese market with over three quarters of the market represented by imported farmed salmon. Wal-Mart also sells an incredible amount of farmed salmon – so how “eco” can they really be in their efforts?

The glut of farmed salmon on the market has also destroyed the prices of wild salmon.

There’s a reason that wild sockeye used to fetch a fisherman over $2 a pound and now, over the last several years, a fisherman gets about $0.70 per pound for wild sockeye.

This is supply and demand gone awry. One would think that the price of wild sockeye would be rising due to far less supply of wild sockeye. There was only a tiny sockeye fishing opening in British Columbia this year and no commercial salmon fishing of any kind along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Sockeye fisheries have been sliding for years – in other words: less supply. Yet, prices have also been sliding. This graph shows the price per pound given to fishermen in Alaska.

Is this all due to a glut of farmed salmon on the market – or maybe because low cost providers such as Wal-Mart have entered the market?

So even if Wal-Mart starts sucking up more of that supply destined for Japanese market – does anyone think a giant such as Wal-Mart is going to accept any salmon prices going up? Say in the $1 to $1.50 per pound range…?

As the article concludes:

Bristol Bay sockeye salmon are in Wal-Mart freezers now, at 233 stores and will be available to consumers as long as supplies last. (my emphasis)

How does the jingle in the various commercials go?: “get ’em before they’re gone”.

And, what happens when supplies are gone?

4 thoughts on “do you see a problem?… part II

  1. Kris

    Pebble Mine. Everyone in Alaska wants support and attention from big US corporations in the mindset that it will bring opposition pressure on the mine by placing some kind of value on the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. For their sake, I hope it works. Pebble is a disaster.

    As an aside, and I apologize for replying to a somewhat dated post, I’ve read everything from here to the most recent, working backwards. You’ve horribly depressed me and I’ve once again renewed my vow as a scientist to never, ever, find myself in the employ of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I grew up in PG, and spent many days working with upper Fraser chinook stocks back when there were still brood stock and enhancement programs. Whether those were good or bad is a fairly moot point to me, as they kindled mydesire to work with fish. I gotta stop reading stuff like this, because it just kills me to see how bad things are getting. But I’ve since bailed on BC, and moved to (surprisingly enough) Inuvik. Even worse, I’ve been planning a move to the QCI. Strange how people can backtrack each other.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks for the comment Kris,
    ah yes, the crazy paths folks can take. And, yes, Pebble is a disaster. I’ve followed it relatively closely — as there was some cross over in companies that I dealt with in contract work through various negotiations in northern BC. Apologies for the onset of depression… one of my goals when I began these posts was to try and tell good news stories (at least a few), or at least instill some motivation to tell a new story. The one thing I maintain about salmon is that they have survived incredibly catastrophic events (e.g. Ice Ages), have re-colonized streams after volcanoes, and so on. They will find a way to live on… where the real issue is with us — and the impact that the declines have on communities; especially First Nation communities.

    However, as of late, I’ve certainly been pulled towards exposing some absurdities. Hopefully, the salmon scenario changes to a more positive story… nothing wrong with a little hope.

    thanks again and good luck in the travels. Inuvik is a fascinating place, and if you can live there through a winter or two, then Haida Gwaii (QCI) is most doable. There are some comparisons between short days and darkness, and short days and low cloud ceiling and rain for months on end. Gives a great appreciation for long sunny days….

  3. scott

    Good read this….

    just a note, I spent a few years guiding in the north, 2 at Langara Island. While there I read the Salmon head recovery reports we receive for the previous years. Now obviously these are for clipped fish, but come July on, a majority of these fish are American. Sure a few Kitamat, SW BC or Vanc Isle, but its surprising few. After Aug its 95% plus.

    Guides who have been there for awhile claim to be able to tell different runs apart, Robertson creek fish look this way, Columbia and Fraser ’round nosers’ look this way, etc…

    The fishery sure is not what it once was, but as soon as the Columbia has a low prediction, our July-Sept Springs capture sure deminishs.

    In relation to another study, Thompson river steelhead smolt abundance, to the point of numbers sampled prior to out-migration, have remained consistant and strong, (300K +/-) yet returns have been terrible, pointing to survival issues outside of rearing habitat, (not new news) but what data is out there on strengths of early timed Chinook smolt survival rates?

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