By Laine Welch
As expected, Alaska’s 2013 salmon catch is one for the record books. Early tallies by state fishery managers show that fishermen caught 272 million salmon this summer, smashing the previous record of 221 salmon in 2005. The fishery was powered by a whopping catch of 219 million pinks.
In terms of money, the preliminary harvest value of $691 ranks second to the $724 million of 1988, called an “outlier” season by salmon managers. They also predict that, once all post-season bonuses and price adjustments are determined by salmon processors, the 2013 season could be the most valuable salmon harvest in Alaska’s history.
For the second year running, Southeast has again claimed the title for the Alaska region with the highest salmon volumes and overall value. Fishermen caught more than 100 million salmon for the first time ever, valued at nearly $220 million at the Panhandle docks.
Prince William Sound fishermen ranked second with a catch of 98 million salmon, valued at $162 million. Both Southeast and PWS had their largest pink salmon harvests at just over 91 million and 89.2 million, respectively.
Kodiak was third in terms of salmon catches at nearly 32 million fish, and fourth for value at $62 million.
Bristol Bay is still home to Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery, with Bay sockeyes totaling $138 million at the docks this summer.
Here are the average 2013 statewide salmon prices with comparisons to last year:
Chinook: $5.31 $4.01
Sockeye: $1.60 $1.31
Coho: $1.08 $1.27
Pink: $ .40 $ .48
Chum: $ .52 $. 76
Crabbers pay, can’t play
The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery begins Oct. 15, but the fleet is likely to miss out on the opener. The government shutdown means no one is on the job to issue the permits for the crabbers to go fishing.
“It’s a situation where you not only have harm to the crab fishermen, but also to the processors in the area. Think of the economic impact because you don’t have somebody in an agency who is there to pick up the phone, and sign the piece of paper to issue the harvest limits. Nothing can happen,” fumed Senator Lisa Murkowski in a phone call from her Washington, D.C. office.
Speaking of fuming, the bureaucratic delay could cause crabbers to miss critical sales deadlines to Japanese buyers.
“Even if they come on-line on Friday, we are going to be cutting it close to getting everything done by the November beginning of the season,” said Jake Jacobsen of the Inter-cooperative Exchange.
The Exchange represents crabbers who hold more than 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab shares.
“If it drags on another few days, we’ll start chewing our fingernails down to nothing,” Jacobsen said, adding that the delay could cost the crab fleet $5 million or more.
What is most galling is that the harvesters and processors have already covered the costs for management and enforcement of the Bering Sea crab fisheries.
“We paid a three-percent user fee, split with the processors, to cover all of this,” said Mike Woodley, skipper of the F/V Atlantico.
That is the message Senator Murkowski and Representative Don Young brought to the Commerce Secretary in a letter last week.
“We reminded her that the Bering Sea crab fisheries are funded by a tax on the users’ landings, not by the government,” Murkowski said. “It’s a situation where it pays for itself, so you don’t need to wait around for a budget.”
The crab user fees added up to $262 million last year, according to NOAA data.
Murkowski and Rep. Young have asked the Secretary to intervene and added, “We are aware that other federal agencies have used available balances from prior years to continue essential operations, and we believe such flexibility should be applied to the crab fishery, and in a timely manner.”
Meanwhile, the crabbers’ Jacobsen offered this quick solution:
“We would be happy to pay NMFS employees 10 times what they would normally make to come in and work for a few days and issue the IFQs.”
Murkowski off the cuff
The Senator admitted D.C. is a tough place to be during these days of budget shutdowns and showdowns.
“There’s a heck of a lot more talking going on, so that’s positive,” Murkowski said.
“It is Republicans who are taking the biggest hit in the polls for the government shutdown across the nation,” I said.
Murkowski agreed, but countered with the unpopularity of Congress as a whole, which Gallup has at 8 percent; the lowest rating in its polling history.
“A PPP poll showed we, as a Congress, have a lower approval rating than dog poop, toenail fungus, cockroaches and the IRS,” the Senator quipped. “We do have a higher rating than Putin and hemorrhoids, and we beat out the Ebola virus and also Charles Manson by a long shot. We also have higher ratings than Honey Boo Boo, but lower ratings than pot holes.”
“It’s all so ridiculous,” she sighed. “You have to be able to laugh a little bit. It’s sort of like laughing through your tears.”
Fishermen get healthier
Enrollment began this month for the Affordable Care Act, which lets people sign up for health care coverage that fits their budgets and needs. Individuals and families can choose from many options through a Marketplace, regardless of pre-existing conditions or non-coverage. The Act requires Americans to have coverage by Jan. 1 and provides tax credits for some individuals to help pay for it.
Fishermen, who are usually regarded as self-employed or independent contractors, have long fallen through the health care cracks due to the high costs and high risks associated with their profession. Fishing organizations and support businesses also are likely eligible for tax credits under the ACA, said Mark Vinsel, executive administrator for United Fishermen of Alaska.
“I think some of our own UFA member groups are likely to be eligible for tax credits even as nonprofits, as well as other small industry-related businesses, like boat repair, marine services and many others,” he said.
Find more information about the Affordable Care Act at the United Fishermen of Alaska web site or www.healthcare.gov.
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