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In Alaska, an embarrassment of pink-salmon riches
Anchorage Daily News


July 15, 2005

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - For the second time in three years, Alaskan officials will allow Prince William Sound commercial fish processors to strip valuable eggs from millions of pink salmon and throw away the unwanted carcasses.

Normally, such a practice would violate the state's "wanton waste" law.

But the Department of Fish and Game is making an exception because of an explosive run of pinks far larger than expected.

At least 3 million unharvested pinks are milling in the waters near Valdez. Most of the fish migrated to their birthplace at the Solomon Gulch hatchery, near the trans-Alaska oil pipeline terminal.

The hatchery had forecast a return of 11.6 million pinks, but the run could turn out to be more than double that, state biologists said. The pinks are too numerous for commercial fishermen and processing plants to handle before the fish lose their color and their flesh deteriorates.

Ideally, all the pinks could be harvested for people to eat, said Doug Mecum, state commercial fisheries director. Short of that, something valuable still can be salvaged from the pinks - their eggs, or roe, which can fetch several dollars per pound wholesale in Japan.

"It's no different from taking the peel off the banana and eating the inside," said Ed Day, a fourth-generation commercial fisherman in Valdez.

Day, who's been working hard to net pinks with his boat Deserie Lynne, described Valdez waters as laced with "thick, brown streaks of fish" moving along the beaches.

So many pinks have shown up at Valdez that state officials have doubled the daily bag limit for sportfishermen from six to 12 pinks per day.

"Oh, man, there's a gazillion of them," said Matt Miller, a state sportfish biologist.

The pink salmon, also known as the humpy, is the runt of Alaska salmon, the smallest of five species harvested commercially. Pinks are also the most abundant. Most are stuffed into cans, cooked in giant steam tunnels and sold across the country. Commercial fishermen are getting about 11 cents a pound for them at Valdez this season.

Why are so many pinks coming back this summer?

Biologists and hatchery workers cite unusually high ocean survival rates for the pinks, which spend a little over a year at sea after they're released as fry from the hatchery. Like all Pacific salmon, they deteriorate and die soon after they return to their natal waters to spawn.

Each spring, the Valdez hatchery releases millions of fry and usually about 4 percent of them return. This year, evidently, lots more pinks stayed alive in the hazard-filled ocean, hatchery workers said.


Anchorage Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy(at)
Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service,

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