By Laine Welch
Alaska’s salmon catch has blown past pre-season predictions, and there is still a lot of fishing left to go. The 2010 statewide harvest was pegged at 137 million salmon, down by 15 percent from last year due to anticipated low returns of pinks.
But the Alaska catch has topped 157 million salmon so far, and the humpy haul is approaching 99 million fish. Managers had predicted a catch closer to 69 million pinks.
Most of the fish was coming from Prince William Sound — 65 million so far — toppling the record of 63.5 million pink salmon set in 2007. The fleet of 164 seiners hauled in a mind-boggling 20.3 million pinks during one week in early August. The take could have been much bigger, but the huge catches exceeded processing capacity and boats were put on limits. Southeast Alaska fishermen were also seeing strong pink salmon catches, so far approaching 22 million fish.
Prices for Alaska’s “bread-and-butter” fish have also increased to 35 cents a pound, compared to an average of 22-24 cents last year.
In fact, prices for pinks in their various product forms have trended upward in the past few years. According to market tracker Ken Talley, the wholesale price for frozen pinks was holding steady at 93 cents a pound in 2008 and 2009, up from 77 cents the previous year. Fresh pinks jumped from 84 cents in 2008, to $1.42 in 2009. Frozen pink fillets were wholesaling at $1.16 a pound last year.
And get this: most of Alaska’s pink salmon still end up in cans, and cases of canned talls were fetching $118.88 per case, up from $59.11 in 2008. Also favoring Alaska is the fact that competing pink salmon catches from Russia are expected to be down by half from a year ago.
A higher harvest and higher prices mean the value of Alaska’s 2010 salmon fishery will dwarf last year’s dockside value of $370 million, which took a big hit from the global recession.
Sockeye salmon account for two-thirds of Alaska’s total salmon value, and prices to fishermen this year have soared. At Kodiak, reds fetched a base price of $1.49 per pound, up from $1.11 last year. Prices at Prince William Sound were $2.25, compared to $1.72. For Southeast, sockeye prices were reported at $2, an increase of 75 cents per pound.
Two-thirds of Alaska’s total sockeye harvest comes from Bristol Bay, and fishermen there received a base of 95 cents this summer — up from 70 cents last year. With bonuses for chilled and bled fish, the final price at Bristol Bay could climb to around $1.20 per pound, boosting the value of the catch to $170 million. That’s an increase of more than $40 million from 2009. Alaska’s total sockeye salmon harvest is expected to fall shy of the forecasted 45.8 million reds, but is still a respectable 40.3 million so far.
Salmon prices don’t settle out until long after the fishing season, when sales are concluded at year’s end and beyond. And customers look at the whole salmon pack from North America, meaning Alaska, the West Coast and Canada.
The market could get a shake-up from the first commercial fishery in four years at British Columbia’s Fraser River. There, 30 million sockeye salmon are expected to arrive next week; the biggest red run since 1913.
Industry reports say there are concerns whether B.C.’s processors have the capacity to handle such a monumental harvest. Already, ice is being trucked in from Vancouver, and plans are being made to ship fish to Alaska for processing.
McAdams talks fish
Whether the winner in the U.S. Senate race is Murkowski or Miller, they will face Scott McAdams of Sitka as the Democratic challenger in November.
At a press conference after the primary election, McAdams — who grew up in Petersburg — said commercial fishing “goes to the core of my identity.”
“I learned to read, write and reason in a town where 85 cents on the dollar came from commercial fishing,” McAdams said. “I spent five years as a deckhand working in fisheries throughout the state. I seined in Southeast, Kodiak, I hand-bait longlined in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. I have an appreciation and a great affinity for the lifestyle and the culture, and for the need for commercial fishing in our state.”
When asked how he feels about the current administration’s push toward Marine Spatial Planning, or ocean zoning and the fears that it will shut down fisheries, McAdams responded emphatically.
“I will put no affiliation, no loyalty, no entity above my commitment to Alaskans,” he said. “I will stand up and fight for Alaska fishermen against every policy that stands in the way of healthy fish stocks and any policy that puts Alaska’s fishermen in a bad position.”
McAdams said he does not support the proposed Pebble Mine.
“I believe that, as the largest red-salmon fishery on the planet, it needs to be enhanced, maintained and preserved throughout the next millennia.”
McAdams said he supports oil and gas development, but that Alaska should be at the forefront of national efforts to develop a renewable energy economy.
McAdams is serving his first two-year term as mayor of Sitka and is the region’s Director of Community Schools. At the national school board level, McAdams helped pass policies supporting Alaska Native language instruction.
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