High demand for Alaskan wild caught salmon in China, according to study

Jun 22, 2017

A new survey shows an interest in Alaskan salmon among a growing Chinese middle class, including a potential market for fish heads, skins and bones.

Salmon on sale in China
Credit Alaska Sea Grant

China is already the largest exported market of Alaskan seafood, but a recent report from the Alaska Sea Grant suggests the Chinese market for wild caught Alaskan salmon may be growing.

KDLG’s Nick Ciolino has more:

Most of the Alaskan salmon harvest is exported, and according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a third of those exports go to China. Some of that salmon is consumed domestically by the Chinese, and some is processed and re-exported to other countries.

The Sea Grant survey shows a growing interest in Alaskan salmon among a burgeoning Chinese middle class with disposable income.

“Most of the consumers know Alaska, and then when we asked those questions they were excited about Alaskan seafood or salmon,” said Angie Zheng, co-author of the Sea Grant report.

Zheng’s consumer study called for the surveying of more than a thousand Chinese grocery shoppers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Consumers were questioned on their shopping habits, and on their interest and perception of Alaska. She says the Chinese recognize Alaskan seafood as some of the cleanest, healthiest protein in the world.

“From local consumers’ perspective—their consumption perspective—I think there is a huge demand. There is a huge emerging local consumers market,” said Zheng.

This demand comes alongside an uptick in the United States domestic market for wild caught salmon filets, and like the United States, the Chinese are becoming more interested in where their food comes from. The Chinese economy has seen some growth in the last ten years, and with that growth has come an increase in pollution. In the wake of several national food scandals, the emerging wealthy Chinese middle class has become more food conscious, and is willing to spend more to eat healthier, according to the study.

“There is very quick economic development in China, that’s why there is a rising of the middle class. Meanwhile, accompanied with the economic development, there are environmental pollutions; there are food safety scandals. So those actually turn out to be concerns for the consumers,” said Zheng.

There is also a market in China for fish heads, bones and skins—delicacies part of traditional Chinese cuisine. The report shows salmon heads on sale in Chinese markets at $4.99 a pound, skins for $2.46 a pound, and bones for $5.10 a pound.

“For fish head and bones, usually we cook it in soups, and Chinese consider those soups as very healthy soups, and for the skins sometimes people do the skin salad,” said Zheng.

Few if any processors in Alaska are selling salmon heads to China, according to ASMI International Marketing Director Hannah Lindoff. The bulk of the fish head supply is from farmed salmon. Farmed salmon heads are usually larger than wild caught, and they are sold with the collar—a part of the anatomy included in wild caught fish sold as head and gutted.

“There is expense incurred in Alaska to process heads, to freeze them, to ship them. And this is not a dirt cheap item, but something that our processors would need to at least break even on,” said Lindoff.

The peak of the sockeye run is soon approaching in Alaska, and indications show the initiatives in the state to increase the quality of salmon sold in the market could be accompanied with an increase in market demand—a demand domestically for filets, and for the entire fish abroad.

Reach KDLG fisheries reporter Nick Ciolino at fish@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281