ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Back now with Day to Day. If you like to eat wild-caught salmon, get ready for some wild prices. Stocks of the fish are dwindling off the coast of California and Oregon. There may be a ban on commercial fishing in the region. Now fishing boats in Alaska and Washington will still troll for salmon, but no one expects that supply to meet the demand. We could see wild salmon at 30 dollars a pound. David Gorn reports.
DAVID GORN: Inside the bustling Ferry Building in San Francisco is the San Francisco Fish Company.
Unidentified Woman # 1: I need 10 pounds.
Unidentified Man: Ten pounds?
Unidentified Woman # 1: Yeah, what is it?
GORN: Slabs of fish meat rest on beds of fresh ice and Hannah Clem (ph) of Alameda is trying to pick out a good one.
Ms. HANNAH CLEM (Seafood Consumer, Alameda, California): I grew up in Denmark and I was raised on seafood, and it was the cheapest thing you could eat at that time, and now it's just through the roof.
GORN: That roof is going to get a little higher, at least for the type of fish most beloved by west coast diners, wild salmon.
Mr. ALAN CUNE (Fishmonger, San Francisco): My name is Alan Cune (ph), I am a fishmonger here in San Francisco.
GORN: Cune runs this fish market, and he some bad news for his customers.
Mr. CUNE: So when the supply is low and the demand is high the price goes up. Now you would be looking at anywhere from 20 to 40 dollars a pound this year.
GORN: That's because the population of Chinook salmon in the Pacific Ocean has mysteriously dried up. Theories abound from polluted water to climate change, but the bottom line is that spawning numbers were too low this year in the Sacramento River. So the Pacific Fishery Management Council recently announced that one of its restriction options this year is to completely close the salmon season in California and Oregon. To fish wholesaler Bill Dawson (ph) that's one third of all the fish he sells.
(Soundbite of seagulls)
Unidentified Woman # 2: 12:45 departure, 12:45 departure ticket.
GORN: Just down the dock from Alcatraz Cruises on Fisherman's Wharf is Bill Dawson and his seafood suppliers business.
Mr. BILL DAWSON (Seafood Supplier, San Francisco): It's going to be a very, very expensive product. It could be easily 30 dollars. It seems to me they are always going to be a small percentage of the core consumers that want wild salmon - they're going to really pay a lot of money for it.
GORN: Dawson is hoping that this salmon drought doesn't last any more than two years and that the fishermen and his own businesses will be around when, or if, the fish come back.
(Soundbite of market)
GORN: Back at the San Francisco Fish Company Alan Cune says that the Japan market is big enough to absorb the 30 dollar a pound price, as well as some restaurants in New York, L.A., and Chicago. The pressure from high prices for wild salmon is having another effect, Cune says. It may be feeding a new industry.
Mr. CUNE: What you will see this year will be interestingly enough artisan fish farmers. A really high quality salmon product that's not wild but it's the closest that we can come to wild salmon.
GORN: Most farmed salmon is a pale gray color, Cune says, and the fish are fed pink dot to make it more palatable. With so-called artisan farm salmon, the fish get their natural pink color from eating krill. This fish is more expensive, of course, but nowhere near the expected price for wild salmon. Restaurants have been heading toward this type of fish, Cune adds, especially given the sticker shock expected with wild salmon. That's what customer Hannah Clem says she usually gets anyway and if it wasn't there?
Ms. CLEM: I'll have to go back to my good old pork tenderloin, or my tin sardines.
GORN: The Pacific Fishery Management Council is expected to make a final ruling on salmon restrictions at its April meeting in Seattle. For NPR news, I'm David Gorn.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.