ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Thousands of fishermen across Alaska are staying in port to protest low prices they blame on Japanese buyers fixing prices.
Gov. Walter J. Hickel on Wednesday delayed opening a fishing area in Bristol Bay by 24 hours to prevent any possible violence between striking fishermen and any who might have ignored the boycott.
Fishermen in the Bristol Bay area launched the strike Tuesday to protest prices that have tumbled from more than $1 per pound last year to about 50 cents this year. In 1988, processors were paying more than $2 a pound.
″The cost of operations goes up for us and the price of fish goes down,″ said Ron Jolin, a Kodiak fisherman.
The state issued nearly 3,000 permits to salmon fishermen in Bristol Bay. The strike spread Wednesday to Kodiak, 150 miles southeast of Bristol Bay, where prices were about 80 cents a pound; and to Cook Inlet, near Anchorage..
Fishermen blamed Japanese buyers for setting low prices, but processors point to a worldwide salmon glut.
″There’s just a pile of fish around,″ said Alec Brindle, president of Ward Cove Packing Co., headquartered in Seattle.
″This is just the operation of the law of supply and demand. Anybody who’s been reading the statistics would know that there’s a worldwide surplus of salmon. Alaska’s no longer the sole source.″
The governor asked Labor Commissioner Nancy Usera to mediate a meeting between representatives of the fishermen and processors Thursday morning in the Bristol Bay community of Naknek.
″The people of the Bristol Bay region need to know the facts, and the only immediate solution is to talk,″ Hickel said in a news release. ″We must lift the veil of silence which divides the industry.″
Usera and Hickel cannot do anything about prices, said Eric Rehmann, a spokesman for the governor. But Hickel hopes to defuse any violence. He postpone opening a fishery for 24 hours on the Egegik River in the southeast part of Bristol Bay.
Public Safety Commissioner Richard Burton was expected to head to the region as well.
The state Department of Fish and Game opens the areas around river mouths to fishermen when officials determine there are enough salmon in the river to sustain healthy runs. The openings usually last about 12 hours, then fishing is halted and more salmon are allowed to pass into the river without facing nets.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Bristol Bay-area businesses closed in a 24-hour general strike in support of the fishermen.
Last year’s salmon catch was worth more than $500 million, according to state figures.