More wild salmon from Alaska will make its way to world markets this year if forecasts hold true for the 2013 season.
State salmon managers are projecting a catch of nearly 179 million fish, 30 percent more than the 2012 harvest of 127 million salmon. Pushing the higher catch is a robust return of pink salmon that could yield a harvest of 118 million fish, 73 percent more than last summer’s harvest of 68 million humpies.
The catch breakdown for other salmon species is 110,000 Chinook in areas outside Southeast Alaska; for sockeye salmon, the big money fish, a harvest of 34.3 million is projected, down just one percent from last year. For coho salmon, a catch of 3.9 million is just slightly higher, and a chum catch of 22.7 million is an increase of one percent.
In terms of total harvests last year, Southeast Alaska led all other regions at nearly 37 million salmon landed, followed by Prince William Sound at about 35 million. Bristol Bay placed third with a catch of just over 22 million salmon. Kodiak placed fourth topping 20 million salmon and Upper Cook Inlet was a distant fifth for salmon catches at about 4 million fish.
For total salmon value in 2012, Southeast came out on top for the second year running at $153.2 million; Bristol Bay ranked second at $121 million; and Prince William Sound was third with a total salmon value of nearly $111 million. That was followed by Kodiak at $46.5 million; Cook Inlet at $36.2 million; Alaska Peninsula/Aleutians at $17.5 million; Chignik at $13.8 million; Yukon at $3.1 million; Kuskokwim at $2 million; Norton Sound at $759,000 and Kotzebue with a total salmon value of $568,000.
Find all the salmon projections for this year and a wrap of last season at the ADF&G website under commercial fisheries.
Some salmon sales soar
Much of Alaska’s salmon gets sold long after fishermen hang up their nets. The state Department of Revenue’s Tax Division tracks sales throughout the year by region for canned, frozen/fresh fish and salmon roe.
Sales from September through December 2012 show big gains for some products compared to the prior year. Canned sockeye salmon, for example, wholesaled for more than $193 per case of talls in 2012, an increase of more than $12 from 2011. For canned pinks, a case of talls topped $103 last year, up more than $15.
Roe prices surged for all salmon, especially for the most popular species: pinks and chums. For pink salmon, over 5.5 million pounds of roe fetched nearly $12 per pound, compared to about $8.50 in 2011. For chums, over 3.2 million pounds were sold from September through December at $18.76 a pound, an increase of $5 dollars a pound.
Most of Alaska’s salmon is sold headed/gutted and frozen. H&G prices decreased across the board last year. Sales show Alaska processors are continuing to ramp up fillet production — notably for sockeye salmon.
In 2011, about 7 million pounds of sockeye fillets valued at nearly $42 million were sold in the last four months of the year. In 2012, fillets totaled nearly 9 million pounds were worth over $51 million.
For Bristol Bay, the world’s largest sockeye salmon producer, fillet sales reached $15.5 million from September through December, double the value for the same time in 2011.
The Alaska Superior Court ruled Feb. 25 that the Department of Natural Resources violated its own rules by denying Alaskans their right to keep water in streams to protect wild salmon runs. The decision in Chuitna Citizens Coalition vs. DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan is especially important as the Alaska legislature considers bills introduced by Governor Parnell (HB 77/SB 26) which will ax the entire statutory scheme for instream flow protections designed to ensure salmon have enough water to survive before other out-of-stream uses are permitted.
“It’s sad when Alaskans have to spend time and money suing our own government in order to uphold the state’s constitution which mandates that we sustain our salmon fisheries,” Ron Burnett of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition said in a press release. The Coalition is a group of property owners, fishermen and hunters concerned about protecting wild salmon habitat in the face of proposed large-scale coal strip mining in Upper Cook Inlet.
Who fishes where
Many people are surprised to learn that 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood landings come from federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles offshore. Management falls to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council which has compiled a user friendly booklet profiling the fishing fleets through 2010, with an addendum for 2011 that includes names of every boat. Hundreds of other vessels fish for salmon, herring and crab in state waters, which are not included in the profile.
Some highlights for 2011: 81 trawl boats and 16 catcher processors fished in the Bering Sea and 98 trawlers fished in the Central and Western Gulf. There were 67 groundfish longline vessels, 137 pot boats, and 118 vessels in the jig fleet. Seventy-seven boats made up the Bering Sea/Aleutians crab fleet, four scallopers and a combined 1,457 boats fished for halibut and sablefish. The largest fleet was the charter halibut group at 1,090 vessels.
While most people imagine huge vessels participate in the federal fisheries, 80 percent are less than 60 feet. By far, most of the boats were built in the 1970s and ’80s. Most of the catch in 2010 — 54 percent — was pollock, followed by flatfish at 18 percent and cod at 15 percent. Halibut and sablefish were just one percent of the total catch, and shellfish at 2 percent.
As to where the fleets call home — most of the large catcher processors report Seattle as their homeport, while most of the catcher boats hail from Alaska. Major ports for groundfish are Kodiak, Homer and Sand Point. For halibut and sablefish, homeports are Homer, Kodiak, Juneau, Petersburg and Sitka.
The 72-page Fishing Fleet Profiles report can be seen/downloaded at the NPFMC website under Resources/Publications/Summary Reports.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry since 1988.
Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 30 stations around the state. Laine lives in Kodiak.