The value of Kodiak salmon took a nosedive this year, reflecting a trend across many Alaska fisheries.
The total value of this year’s Kodiak Island salmon harvest was $26.4 million for a catch of 23.8 million fish, which is $12.7 million less than the 10-year average, according to data released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
This year’s value was nearly $1 million less than in 2018, when the overall catch was just 8 million fish.
Bristol Bay, which boasts the world’s largest commercial sockeye fishery, also suffered a low-value harvest despite seeing the fourth-largest catch since 2000, according to a report from the department. The reported value of this year’s Bristol Bay harvest was $140.7 million for all salmon species, ranking ninth in the last 20 years and 5% below the 20-year average of $147.8 million.
Fisheries market analysts have partially attributed this year’s low market value to uncertainties brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in the widespread closure of food service establishments. Other factors include increased competition from Russia, and retaliatory tariffs and COVID-19 restrictions imposed by China.
Despite the lower value of salmon this year, the local harvest for pink salmon, which typically bring in the most money for Kodiak fishermen, was 21.8 million fish, significantly surpassing the forecast of 12.2 million.
“The pink salmon harvest was above average for an even year. … Our even years have not been that strong for a while. That was probably the best even year in about 20-plus years,” said James Jackson, a biologist with Fish and Game.
But Jackson added that this year’s salmon harvest was a “mixed bag.” Sockeye, silver and chum salmon saw below-average harvests and even some record lows.
“Probably the early run portion of the sockeye harvest is about as bad as it gets; it’s the lowest of 40, 45 years,” Jackson said, but noted that the overall sockeye numbers were just below average.
Participation in Kodiak was also significantly lower than in previous years, with only 47% of permits fished compared to the 10-year average of 54%.
According to Fish and Game, purse seine fishermen accounted for most of the total harvest, with earnings averaging $157,217 per fished permit. Set gillnet earnings averaged $23,187 per permit fished. Beach seine earnings are confidential and not disclosed.
Fish escapement, or the number of fish that are not harvested and that return to freshwater to spawn, are counted through weirs, aerial surveys and surveys on the ground conducted by Fish and Game biologists.
This year, fish-counting weirs were operated on eight river systems. In addition, two observers flew 26 aerial surveys, and several observers conducted foot and skiff survey escapement estimates.
Pink salmon had record escapement, while chum salmon, as well as some sockeye salmon runs, had below-average escapement.
Knowledge of escapement numbers helps management biologists forecast production for future years and calculate population sizes to better compute the productivity of the fisheries.