Prior to the major red salmon run in Bristol Bay, Alaska test fishing is taking place in the Port Moller region.
In previous years, data from the US Department of Fisheries has been a good indication of the likely outcome of the season's catch, except in 1998 when in spite of good returns at Port Moller the bulk of the run never materialised. At the time, it was blamed on a below- average sea temperature. This year there were similar report of temperatures 30F-40F below normal, raising concerns about a lower-than-expected catch.
With Bristol Bay having the largest Alaskan red salmon run and every likelihood that Canada will once again be severely restricted in its commercial fishing, everything depends on the Bay's catch.
On UK importer said: "We expect a catch just below that of last season, but with production of more 213g cans and a reduction in 418g cans."
With red salmon sales buoyant due to its healthy image and strong promotional backing, failure in the bay would be a disaster.
Nevertheless, sources in Seattle remain confident that there will be plenty of red salmon for the export market, of which the UK is the largest buyer.
As aluminium can costs are 8% up year-on-year, sardine packers in Portugal and Morocco are pressing for higher prices. In January 2005, aluminium was $1,700 per tonne but it is now $2,300 per tonne and the can accounts for 40% of the finished product price, so canners insist they can no longer absorb the higher overheads.
Larger fish are also adding to the processors' problems. "We struggle to meet the 4-6 specification, hence most product will have to be 3-4," a Moroccan canner said, adding: "Most of those will be 3s".
Suppy side prices will be 8-10% up on last year's but retailers will resist any increases in shelf prices.
Italian tomato processors will shortly be starting production of the main number two crop, which supplies the bulk of the market with whole plum and chopped. Weather conditions have improved and the long-term forecast seems ideal.
With a reduced tonnage, the market is expected to grow at the end of next month without the need to open early, which happens when packers need orders on the books. "Packers will be sensible and wait for realistic cost evaluation, thus avoiding the element of speculation" said a UK retail buyer.