Story last updated at 5/8/2013 - 3:46 pm
It might still feel like winter but Alaska's 2013 salmon season will officially get underway on May 16, when the first runs of reds and kings are scheduled to arrive at Copper River.
The season's first fish will attract the usual media hoopla - helicopters whisking salmon from the fishing grounds to awaiting planes, ready to fly them to eager restaurateurs and retailers in Seattle and other regions. New among the salmon groupies will be two Texas chefs who will fish for Copper River salmon themselves, then stop over at the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau before heading home to host a VIP dinner featuring the salmon/beer duo. The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association and Alaskan Brewing Company partnered to bring two famous Alaska products to the Lone Star state.
Copper River's projected catch of 1.3 million sockeye and 19,800 Chinook this summer will be part of an Alaska season total pegged at 179 million salmon, 30 percent higher than the 2012 harvest.
Pushing this year's higher forecast is a bumper run of pink salmon that could yield a 73 percent higher take of 118 million fish. The projected catch breakdown for other salmon species is 34.3 million sockeye, down 1 percent; for coho salmon, a slightly higher catch of 3.9 million, and a chum catch of 23 million, a 1 percent increase. Find all the salmon projections for this year at www.alaskafishradio.com
Capital fish - When Alaskans think of Juneau they don't usually think of commercial fishing, but in fact, the seafood industry is the largest private employer in the Capital City.
Juneau is home to 800 fishermen, 330 fishing vessels and four seafood processors. Last year nearly 18 million pounds of seafood were landed in the City, valued at $28 million. On the national scene, Juneau is ranked at No. 43 for U.S. ports for volume of fish landings, and No. 39 for value.
"The fishing industry, apart from our processors, is lots of individual, small businesses. If you compare it to mining, which is something Juneau is well known for; we have more employment in the seafood industry than we do in the mining sector. So it is very important in our community," said Brian Holst, director of the Juneau Economic Development Council.
That message will be spotlighted at Juneau's 4th annual Maritime Festival on May 19, a celebration to remind people that they are connected to the ocean. (May is National Maritime Month.)
The day begins with First Alaskans arriving from Douglas in their canoes followed by a traditional welcome and dancing seafood samples, donated by local processors, are dished out all day and Holst said that inspired one of the festival's most popular events - a filleting contest using rockfish and salmon.
"As they were serving up the free samples, we were all mesmerized by the folks that were demonstrating their skill in filleting. So we found some rules from elsewhere and we had a wonderful event last year," he said. (Winning filleters get an iPad.)
People also line up for fishing vessel tours, Holst said, and for many it's a first time experience on a working vessel.
"And that's why we know it is very valuable. People see these things but they are off in the water, and if you are not directly involved, it's easy to not really appreciate all that goes into a small fishing business," Holst said.
See the May 19 line up of events at http://www.juneaumaritimefestival.org/
Fish funds - Three Alaska groups have merited grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) as part of its Fisheries Innovation Fund. The program began in 2010 with a goal of sustaining fishermen while rebuilding fish stocks, and funds related projects across the country.
Among the 15 award recipients are: $55,000 to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council for its
Every Halibut Counts: Reducing Halibut Discard Mortality project. AMCC will conduct an industry-driven conservation initiative to reduce mortality of discarded, sport caught halibut in Southeast and South Central fisheries. The project will promote and facilitate best practices for careful release of the fish.
The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association received $110,000 for a project that will test GPS data loggers as a low-cost alternative to vessel monitoring systems in halibut and sablefish fisheries.
The North Pacific Fisheries Association was awarded $127,400 to test electronic monitoring on small fixed-gear cod boats in the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska. The project also will compare costs of electronic monitoring vs. onboard observers in the fishery.
Fish watch - As of May 3: Boats and tenders were waiting for the fish to arrive at the Alaska's largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay. Kodiak fishermen had passed the half way mark for their 5,600 ton roe herring quota...Final tallies at Sitka showed the herring fleet took less than half of the 11,000 ton quota. The herring were robust with 13 percent roe averages; advance price at Sitka was reported at $500/ton. ... Jiggers continue to target Pacific cod throughout the Gulf. Halibut longliners have been on the water for over a month with catches at less than 4 million pounds out of the 22 million pound catch limit. Sablefish (black cod) landings had reached 7 million pounds out of a 28 million pound quota. A sablefish fishery also opens along the Aleutian Islands on May 15... Bering Sea crabbers were scratching up the last of their snow crab catches, with about three million pounds remaining in their 60 million pound quota ... Various shrimp fisheries are occurring on and off in Prince William Sound and the Panhandle, where starting May 1, trollers were back on the water targeting spring kings.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.