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Fish Factor

Decline in commercial salmon catches projected
By Laine Welch


February 20, 2006

State fishery managers are projecting a significant decline in commercial salmon catches this year. The 2006 harvest for all species is pegged at 160 million fish, well below last year's record catch of 221 million salmon. That harvest topped the previous record of 218 million fish set in 1995. At a glance, look for drops in this year's pink and sockeye salmon harvests compared to the 2005 season, a slight increase for chinook, similar catches for coho salmon, and higher chum harvests due to increasing runs in Western Alaska.
jpg Laine Welch

Here is the projected breakdown for the 2006 salmon catch by species ­ for chinook salmon, managers expect a catch of 780,000 fish, up from 682,000 last year. For sockeye, the harvest is projected at 35.6 million, down from 43.28 million last year. The coho catch is pegged at five million, up just a tick from the 2005 take of 4.79 million. For pink salmon, managers project a catch of 108 million, compared to more than 161 million humpies harvested last year. And for chum salmon, the projected catch is 17.6 million, up from 11.3 in 2005.

The value of the 2005 salmon catch showed a big increase over that of the previous three years, ringing in at $305 million dollars at the docks. That compares to $257 million in 2004 and $195 million in 2003. Last year marked the first time that the value of broke the 300 million dollar barrier since 1999, when the salmon harvest was valued at $370 million. Find the 2006 harvest breakdowns by region and fisheries at

GET SMART, ALASKA! The deadline to submit ideas is less than one month away, and the international Smart Gear competition has yet to attract a single entry from Alaska. The contest, now in its second year, is sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund. Its goal is to "inspire and reward" new ideas that reduce the accidental take of marine mammals, sea birds and non-target species by fishing gear.

"Our thinking is that there is a lot more we can do if we get everyone working together to change fishing to make it smarter to reduce bycatch of any kind," said Kim Davis, deputy director of WWF's Marine Conservation Program.

Davis said she is mystified why the Smart Gear contest has once again not drawn any ideas from Alaska. "I'm sure you have a lot of very ingenious fishermen and we hope to hear from them in the next few weeks. We have gotten a lot of interest from the other side of the Pacific, notably Russia," she said.

In all, Davis said entries are lagging well behind last year when 50 ideas were submitted from 16 countries (13 came from the U.S.). So far, only 10 entries have come in from six countries, three from the U.S. - the New York scallop fishery, a California trawl fishery and the Hawaii longline fishery. "We expect to get a rush of ideas in the last week or two. That was the case last year," she added.

The contest, which is judged by an international panel, awards a $25,000 first prize and two $5,000 prizes. Last year's winning idea, which came from New Caledonia, modified longlines to set them faster and deeper, resulting in fewer takes of turtles and increased tuna catches. That concept will begin large scale testing in April by NOAA Fisheries in Hawaii's tuna fishery. Another winner combined glowing ropes and stiffer nets that helped marine mammals avoid gillnets, a system of angled metal grids and net meshes that allowed small fish and shrimp to swim away also took home a cash prize. The deadline to enter the 2006 Smart Gear contest is March 15. Winners will be announced at the Brussels Seafood Show in Belgium on May 11th. Get more info at

RSDA UPDATE - Bristol Bay salmon permit holders will soon say "yea or nay" on moving forward with a Regional Seafood Development Association. ( ) The first of two ballots will go out in mid-March to 2,860 drift and set net permit holders who will vote on a one percent tax on their salmon catches to fund the RSDA. A second ballot will follow shortly thereafter. "It comes out to about three cents per fish," said interim board facilitator, Bob Waldrop. In effect, the assessment will replace the one percent tax on salmon catches that used to go to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which ended in 2004.

The state Division of Investments will count all the votes and conduct the RSDA election. All ballots must be postmarked by May 1, and the Division will announce the results in mid-May.

If Bristol Bay fishermen approve the tax, they will elect a board of directors and determine how to proceed. "This is going to be a completely fishermen controlled organization - how the money is spent, what programs, priorities and strategies are developed. It's a first in that regard," Waldrop said. He added that RSDA programs go far beyond marketing and promotions, but can also include such things as infrastructure and new product development, improved ice availability, refrigerated staging areas at airports, market research, etc.

Waldrop said there is still a lot of misunderstanding about RSDA's but the interest level is rising. "The more they learn about fishermen control, the more comfort they have with the concept," he said. A public meeting on the Bristol Bay RSDA will take place on Feb. 27 at 7pm at the Dimond Center Hotel in Anchorage.

RAINFOREST WILD RSDA - Similarly, Southeast fishermen will also vote in March on a one percent tax to fund an RSDA for their region. Unlike Bristol Bay, where the primary focus is on sockeye salmon, a whopping 69 different fisheries will be included in Southeast's RSDA. ( ) In all, 12 Alaska regions are eligible to apply for RSDA's under legislation passed last year. Southeast, Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound/Copper River are the only ones that have opted so far to officially pursue the opportunity. A forum on RSDA's is set for March 18 at ComFish in Kodiak ( .

WELL MANAGED FISHERIES SCORE MORE SUPPORT - Two more of the world's largest food corporations have pledged to source their seafood only from well managed fisheries. Following Wal-Mart's lead, Compass Group, one of the biggest contract food service companies, and Europe's Metro Group, the world's third largest food retailer after Wal-Mart and Carrefour, announced last week that they also will source seafood only from fisheries that meet strict standards for being sustainable and friendly to the environment.

Compass Group, which has more than 152,000 associates in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, said it will begin its new policy on March 1 of this year by replacing purchases of Atlantic cod with Pacific cod and Alaska pollock. It also will decrease its use of shrimp and salmon that are farmed in ways that are harmful to the environment. Compass Group said it will base its buying guidelines on the Seafood Watch list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Germany-based retail giant Metro Group, with 1,800 stores in 29 countries, is already removing nearly all shark products from its shelves. Metro will source its seafood products from those bearing the Marine Stewardship Council seal of approval. Alaska salmon, pollock, and cod caught by the Bering Sea freezer longline fleet already have the MSC label; Pacific halibut and sablefish are also set to get the eco-label soon.


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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