Story last updated at 9/30/2009 - 11:33 am
Well, it won't be one for the record books, but Alaska's 2009 salmon harvest is pegged at a respectable 160 million fish.
"We won't hit the preseason projection of 174 million fish, but it's still going to be a good catch in historic perspectives. It's a solid year pretty much across the board," said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the state commercial fisheries division.
The salmon shortfall stems from a no-show of pink salmon at Prince William Sound by both hatchery-raised and wild fish. A harvest of nearly 40 million pinks was predicted at PWS this summer, but the catch came in at 16.5 million fish. Statewide, the total pink salmon harvest squeaked past 94 million fish, 20 million less than projected.
A couple hundred thousand chums might still be landed, and the statewide tally was nearing 17 million, not too far off the forecast. Likewise, coho catches are still coming in and likely to approach the 4 million fish forecast.
Bruce said the harvest of 321,000 king salmon this summer was mediocre.
"We didn't get anything out of the Yukon. Southeast had a relatively small quota under the Pacific salmon treaty, and kings in the Copper River were poor," he explained. "It wasn't really a good year for king salmon."
State number crunchers will compute the values of the various salmon catches over the next few weeks. It's too soon to say if the dockside payday of the 2009 harvest will top last year's value of $452 million.
"Remember back in 2000 and 2001 we were down around $200 million. So the overall value has really improved a lot," Bruce added. "If prices are not too far from last year, it should still be a good pay day."
Average dock prices (ex-vessel) for Alaska salmon in 2008 were 35 cents per pound for pink salmon, 59 cents for chums, 84 cents for sockeye salmon, $1.28 a pound for cohos, and $4.54 for king salmon.
Alaska's pink salmon catch of 93 million fell well shy of projections - but the "supply and demand" principle isn't likely to boost fish prices this year.
"If you looked at that alone, you'd think the pink prices ought to be up. But there's a global recession going on, and we're not the only people in the world that produce pink salmon," said fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp of the University of Alaska-Anchorage. "In fact, the Russians produce a lot more pink salmon than we do."
How much more? This summer Russian fleets reportedly hauled in at least 350,000 metric tons of pink salmon, tonnage that translates to roughly 200 million fish!
"That's a huge number, higher than Alaska has ever harvested and a very significant record for Russia," Knapp said.
The biggest driver of pink salmon prices is the roe, and Russia is one of Alaska's biggest customers. But Russia's haul has brought the hammer down on that market.
"Probably the most important factor affecting the market for pink salmon compared to last year is the change in roe prices. Roe markets are way, way down," Knapp said.
According to industry reports pink salmon roe prices have dropped below $3/lb, compared to over $7/lb last year.
The pink salmon price to Alaska fishermen in 2008 averaged 35 cents a pound; most reports indicate a drop at the docks of roughly 5-8 cents this year. Fish and Game and the state Dept. of Revenue will have more complete salmon price reports in the next couple of months.
Instead of going up the smoke stack, steam generated by large equipment in processing plants can be recaptured and reused as energy.
"Typically, in industrial steam boilers anywhere from 15-25 percent of the energy that goes into the boiler is lost up the stack," said Ed Stoermer of Stoermer Industrial Energy Systems in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Large food processing plants generate hundreds of thousands of pounds of steam per hour, fueled by natural gas, oil or coal.
"To generate the steam there is inefficiency with the combustion and the steam production cycle," Stoermer said. "The energy that is lost is exhausted out into the atmosphere."
Recapturing that steam benefits a company's pocketbook and the planet.
"It not only reduces the amount of energy they need to purchase, they are also reducing by an equivalent amount emissions that are dumped into the atmosphere," he added.
Steam recapture systems easily fit into a plant's existing infrastructure, Stoermer said. The easiest way to save energy, he added, is by improving the efficiency of the equipment on hand.
"All kinds of new technologies are coming to market - solar, geothermal, wind power... but those are tough to harness for the average industrial client," Stoermer said.
"A straightforward approach is to recapture some of the energy that is lost at their plants, whether that is the heat of compression due to refrigeration systems, or recovering energy from the stacks, or some of the blow down or lost energy from the boilers. Those are going to be the simplest steps they can take to reduce their costs and emissions."
Check out Stoermer Industrial Energy Systems at www.stoermer-ies.com
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 27 stations around Alaska. Welch lives in Kodiak.