Story last updated at 3/25/2009 - 10:58 am
A bumper run of pinks could provide a 20 percent boost to Alaska's total salmon catch this year, raising the total to 175 million fish. If the forecast holds true, Alaska's salmon harvest this year will be the 11th largest since statehood.
State fishery managers have released the 2009 salmon run forecasts and catch projections for all Alaska regions. Here's a breakdown by species:
For Chinook salmon, the total catch is pegged at 249,000, a decrease of 85,000 fish from last year. The statewide sockeye catch is projected at 38 million, a drop of one million reds from last season. The preseason projection for coho salmon call for a slight increase to 4.6 million silvers; likewise, chums should see a slight bump to 18.5 million fish.
For those hard to predict humpies, state managers estimate the catch will jump to 113 million pink salmon, a 34% increase from last year.
The state report also gives a great recap of the 2008 salmon season by region. Some interesting highlights: The salmon catch at Southeast Alaska and Yakutat regions totaled 28 million fish, with a dockside value of $117 million. Landings were made by 1,853 permit holders, a slight decrease.
At Copper River, the 2008 sockeye salmon catch of 321,000 was the lowest in 30 years. The near record 42.4 million pink salmon catch at Prince William Sound was made up of 97 percent hatchery raised fish.
Lower Cook Inlet had the lowest salmon catch in a decade, but increased prices pushed up the value to $3.96 million. That ranks as the highest value since 1988, and the fourth highest since statehood.
Salmon catches in the Kuskokwim region by 462 permit holders totaled 494,108 fish, an increase of 50,000. A total of 496 permits fished salmon on the Yukon River last year. The average fishing income for the Upper Yukon was $2,633; for the Lower Yukon, income averaged $1,479.
Norton Sound enjoyed the third largest coho salmon harvest on record and a resurgence of pink salmon fishing. The combined harvest of all salmon species was the best in ten years. The 2008 fishery was valued at $760,362, the highest since 1994. The average fishing income value for Kotzebue fishermen was $8,026.
At Kodiak, only 277 out of 608 permit holders landed salmon last year. The value of the Kodiak catch increased by $3.5 million, to $27.87 million. Fifty-four salmon permit holders fished at Chignik, where the dockside value of $7.3 million equates to about $234,000 in fishing income per permit holder.
The value of Alaska's 2008 salmon fishery was $409 million at the docks.
Find the details of the 2009 salmon catch projections online at www.cf.adfg.state.ak.us/
The halibut season began on March 21 this year, and the fish will face a tough market. The fish landed during the first week are likely to see inflated prices as high-end users feature the season's first fresh halibut on their menus and at seafood counters. But once the initial excitement dies down, the country's economic crunch will bite into prices.
There's still a few million pounds of halibut in the freezers, according to Seafood Trend's Ken Talley.
And it's expensive fish. Alaska processors last year paid $4.31 per pound on average for halibut last year, up just one penny from 2007, but a 16 percent increase from 2006. At the time when prices were at their highest last year, topping $5 per pound at major ports, the U.S. economy shut down.
The fresh market, which drives halibut, ground to a halt as consumers looked for cheaper fish. That left seafood companies holding lots of expensive fish in the face of nose diving demand. Talley said processors hope to make up for the losses they've suffered in trying to move pricey halibut hold-overs out of the freezers. Alaska's halibut catch limit this year is 45.5 million pounds, down from 50 million last year.
Approximately 2,400 longliners will participate in the Alaska halibut fishery, which runs through mid-November.
Ten Alaskans have applied for one seat on the state Board of Fisheries. The Fish Board oversees management of commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries in state waters. A seat that begins July 1 is held now by Karl Johnstone, a retired Anchorage judge and sport fishermen tapped to replace Jeremiah Campbell, who quit the Board in December. Johnstone has yet to be confirmed by the legislature.
Incumbent Bonnie Williams, an angler from Fairbanks, hopes to land another three year term. According to the weekly Laws for the Sea by Bob Tkacz, many hopefuls are vying for Williams' seat. They include Anchorage sport fishermen Robin Childs and Bob Churchill, who is a former subsistence advisor for United Fishermen of Alaska.
Also vying for the seat are Dianne Dubuc, a charter operator and former commercial troller from Seward; setnetter Brent Johnson of Clam Gulch, who is head of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association; Bob Heinrichs, a commercial and subsistence fisherman from Cordova; Michael Huston of Eagle River, vice president of Totem Equipment and Supply and a former Alaska heavy weight boxing champion; Nancy Morris Lyon of King Salmon, who co-owns and operates Katmai Fishing Adventures; and Stanley Malcom of Petersburg, President of the local Charter Boat Association.
The final Board hopeful is Brandii O'Reagan of Nikiski, who gave no information other than a Kenai post office box, Tkacz said.
Governor Palin has until April 1 to make her selection for the Fish Board seat, which is subject to legislative approval.
Laine Welch has been providing news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in 20 Alaska newspapers and web sites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on 20 stations across Alaska. Visit her online at www.alaskafishfactor.com.