Story last updated at 12/3/2008 - 2:01 pm
'Reduced supply' summed up all of the Pacific coast salmon fisheries this year, and Alaska was no exception. Despite the lower catch, wild salmon is still holding its own in world markets.
Alaska's statewide harvest of 146 million salmon was a decrease of 31.4 percent from the previous year - still, it was the 16th largest catch since statehood in 1959. And although the value of the catch was down, it topped $400 million at the docks for the second consecutive year.
Market expert Ken Talley of Seafood Trend said the preliminary value of $409 million decreased less than 2 percent from Alaska's 2007 salmon fishery, and increased more than 18 percent from 2006. All species except sockeye (reds) fetched higher prices for Alaska fishermen.
Although statewide landings of sockeye fell 18% this year, the average base price failed to gain overall, dropping 2.5% to $.78 per pound. At Bristol Bay, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, landings dropped 6.7 percent and prices increased only a penny over last year. Sockeye salmon continue to make inroads into the U.S. market, Talley said, especially during the summer "when fresh fish make a splash at retail."
Chinook (king) salmon were hard to find this year, coming in at just 351,000 fish, down nearly 40% from last year. The scarce kings boosted prices with Copper River fish averaging $5.87 per pound, followed by troll caught fish from Southeast at $5.33.
Coho (silver) salmon continued their gains in price and popularity. Alaska landings of 4.4 million were a gain of 22 percent, and dock prices jumped 26 percent from last year. Troll caught cohos led the way at $1.57 per pound on average.
The chum salmon harvest, which topped 18 million fish, continued to show the biggest gains, with dock prices shooting up by 56 percent. Pinks saw landings of 84 million, a drop of nearly 42 percent, while the average pink price rose 52.6 percent. Alaska fishermen averaged 29-cents a pound for their pink salmon, up a dime.
The $409 million paid to fishermen represents only about 40 percent of the overall value of Alaska's 2008 salmon fishery, said industry analyst Chris McDowell.
""It's the first wholesale prices that capture all the rest of that value - payment to harvesters, processing activity in Alaska, payment to processors, use of goods and services from vendors like welders and truck drivers and shipping," he said.
"For example, the value of the 2007 salmon catch was $416 million - add in first wholesale and it pushes the industry closer to $900 million."
The state Dept. of Revenue publishes that information in its Alaska Salmon Price Report, which includes yearly sales volumes and values for six major products - canned salmon, frozen and fresh headed/gutted fish, frozen and fresh fillets, and salmon roe. The ASPR is available in the spring.
Alaska longliners are bracing for more cuts to their halibut catches again next year. Halibut scientists are recommending a 10 percent reduction to 54 million pounds for all fishing regions, covering the West Coast to the Bering Sea. The decrease comes on the heels of a 9 percent cut in this year's halibut fishery.
Alaska always gets the lion's share of the halibut catch and fishermen will harvest 46 million pounds, if managers opt for the recommendations. That compares to 50 million pounds this year. Southeast Alaska would again take the biggest hit - a proposed catch limit of 4.5 million pounds is a drop of almost 30 percent for the second year in a row.
"It's like a punch in the stomach," Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association told KCAW/Sitka. "It's going to be painful for a lot of people. It's going to be particularly difficult for people who are still paying off loans on quota shares."
For Alaska's largest halibut hole in the Central Gulf, a catch limit of 22.5 million pounds is a 7 percent drop. The Western Gulf would get a bit of a bump to nearly 12 million pounds. The Aleutians and Bering Sea regions could see a slight dip to 7.5 million pounds of halibut
The declines in catches stem from two primary reasons: a new method of assessing the halibut stocks is being done coast wide, instead of by regions, as research shows that halibut range much further than previously thought.
Secondly, although the stocks are still abundant, they have been on a downturn as two strong year classes from the late 1990s leave the fishery. Two more are poised to enter the halibut fishery in the near future, said Bruce Leaman, director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. But those recruits are growing slowly.
"We think the low growth rates are associated both with high density of not only halibut, but also arrowtooth flounder in the Gulf of Alaska," Leaman said, "and that is probably depressing growth rates pretty substantially."
ALFA's Behnken said the halibut industry is not happy about the catch cuts, but supports the science.
"I think people feel like they will follow the science and support being conservative and rebuilding the stocks."
The IPHC will make its final decision on the 2009 halibut catch limits in January in Victoria, B.C. The fishery typically begins in early March and runs through mid-November.
Energy from eels and algae
Researchers at Yale University have found that eels generate more electricity than a lot of electrical devices, and are applying what the eels do naturally to artificial cells. Electric eels have specialized cells called electrocytes to channel the output of electricity the same way that nerve cells fire up. The goal is to replicate electric eel cells to act as bio-batteries for medical implants. According to EcoGeek, the biggest eels can produce charges up to 600 watts of electricity, enough to briefly power your computer, monitor, printer and office lighting simultaneously.
The Carbon Trust, a private company in the U.K., aims to commercialize algae biofuel by 2020 and have it provide a large portion of the country's fuel needs. Micro-algae can be refined for use in renewable transport fuels, and is a favored candidate because it takes few resources to grow and does not compete for food production - a major drawback of bio-fuels like ethanol, made from corn.
Initial forecasts suggest that algae-based biofuels could replace 12 percent of annual global jet fuel consumption, or 6 percent of road transport diesel by 2030. Find out more about the Carbon Trust's Algae Biofuels Challenge at www.carbontrust.co.uk/