File this fish story under the “can there be too much of a good thing” category: Alaska is expecting another bumper run of salmon this year — state managers announced last Friday a projected total catch of 221 million salmon, 39 percent higher than last year. (The numbers for Chinook salmon are still being calculated)

Regional catch projections for this summer are up across the board, according to Runs and Harvest Projections for Alaska’s 2015 Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2014 season by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 

Driving the numbers are the big forecasts for both sockeyes and pinks — a whopping 59 million sockeye salmon catch is set to come out of Alaska this summer, a 33 percent increase and the largest harvest since 1995. Those reds will follow on the heels of last year’s big haul of 44 million sockeye, tons of which remain in freezers. 

For those hard to predict pink salmon, the statewide harvest is projected to top 140 million, a 46 percent increase.

Chum salmon harvests are expected to rebound and double this year to more than 17 million. For coho salmon, a harvest of 4.6 million would be down nearly 2 million fish from last year.

Alaska will be facing a strong headwind when it comes to selling all that salmon this year.

Global factors buffeting sales include a strong U.S. dollar that makes seafood more expensive for foreign customers with devalued currencies (conversely, it makes imports to the United States a far cheaper buy). 

The Russian embargo continues against U.S. seafood, meaning another big bite out of Alaska pink salmon roe sales; and large holdovers of Alaska canned salmon, both pink and sockeye, remain in warehouses.

Another broadside to Alaska salmon sales in the United States will come from Costco’s announcement last week that it is switching the bulk of its fresh, farmed salmon purchases from Chile to Norway “to test the market’s appetite for antibiotic-free fish.” Costco purchases more than 600,000 pounds of farmed salmon fillets each week.

Fish pros speak out for salmon

A group of 20 retired Alaska state and federal biologists and managers has submitted a letter urging the Walker administration to choose salmon over coal at the Chuitna River in Upper Cook Inlet. The public can weigh in on the decision through April 9.

At issue is competing claims made in 2009 for rights to the water at Chuitna tributaries: Alaskans want to reserve the water to protect traditional salmon runs; Delaware-based PacRim wants to remove the water, dig down to bedrock and extract the underlying coal. 

Based on PacRim data, the first phase of the strip mine would remove 20 square miles of salmon habitat, and discharge seven million gallons a day of mine waste into the Chuitna River. The company plans to mine 12 million tons of low-grade coal each year for 25 years for export to Asia. 

In the letter to Dept. of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers the professionals said: “We are greatly concerned with the growing imbalance between resource development and resource conservation in Alaska regarding reservation decisions,” adding; “Now, we are faced with one of the most important salmon habitat decisions Alaska has ever faced, and the reservation of water in the Chuitna watershed represents a historic precedent for salmon habitat management across the state.”

DNR Water Resources chief Dave Schade agreed that the water rights decision is precedent setting, and that it comes down to “saying yes to one applicant, and no to the other.” 

The public comment period ends at 5 p.m. today. Unless there is an appeal by either party, a decision could be made 30 days after. Contact

More fish for moms & babes — For the first time since 1980 the popular Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is being revised, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is asking for input. Americans can suggest what healthy foods should be offered to moms and their babies — and Alaskans are pushing for more fish, notably salmon.

“They want to hear from mothers, heck, they probably want to hear from kids, too,” said Bruce Schactler, Global Food Aid director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “They want to hear from the people who are actually eating the product, and raising their families on it.”

“We are looking for pregnant women to comment, and mothers who have 2- to 3-year-olds, 4- to five-year-olds, and mothers of infants who want to start making salmon baby food in their own kitchen,” Schactler said, explaining that the WIC items fall under designated “baskets” according to kids’ ages.

Right now, canned salmon is only included in mothers’ pre-natal packages.

“We want them to add salmon to all the WIC baskets,” he said. “They are reviewing that whole thing right now and taking comments in it.” 

Studies around the world show that omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon and other fish support brain and eye development, and digestive health in babies and children. The Institute of Medicine is reviewing all WIC comments and recommendations until further notice.

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