SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Projected salmon catches up


March 07, 2011

Last year’s Alaska salmon harvest ranked #11 in the record books, but state fish managers are predicting an even better haul this year. The statewide forecast calls for  a total  catch of 203.4  million salmon, compared to 171million fish in 2010.  If the catch comes in on target, it will be the fifth largest Alaska salmon harvest on record. 

The boost stems from a projected pink catch topping 133 million fish, about 25% higher than last year. All major pink salmon regions – Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Southeast - are expected to produce abundant humpy harvests. 

Projected catches are up for the other salmon species as well. For sockeye, the big money fish, the harvest is pegged at nearly 45 million reds; the coho catch is set at 4.6 million; and for chums, a harvest of nearly 20 million would be the fifth best since 1960. 

For king salmon, a catch just shy of 122,000 is forecasted in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where a treaty with Canada dictates the amount of Chinook that can be taken. That number should be revealed by the end of March.

Find all of the 2011 salmon forecasts by region, and a detailed review of the 2010 season at the Fish and Game website.   The dockside (ex-vessel) value of the 2010 Alaska salmon catch was nearly $540 million.

Black cod bump - Alaska longliners also will see increased catches of sablefish, or black cod, this year. The combined take for the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska is just over 14,000 tons, or more than 31 million pounds.  That’s  an increase of 25% over last year.  The biggest sablefish increase is in the Gulf, where total catches are up 26%.  Last year black cod dock prices neared $7/lb for large sizes. That fishery, along with halibut, opens this year on Saturday, March 12.

Get Smart!  

The call is out for new ideas that help protect sea creatures from being accidentally entangled in fishing gears. Since 2004 the international Smart Gear competition has rewarded new gear ideas that help fishermen retain their target catch while letting marine mammals, turtles, birds and small or unwanted fish swim away.

The contest offers a grand prize of $30,000, two runner up prizes of $10,000 each, and a special $7,500 prize this year for tuna protections.

The contest is open to anyone, and by far most of the ideas come from fishermen, said Mike Osmond, program director for World Wildlife Fund, sponsor of the Smart Gear contest.    

“I would say that 75% of our winning ideas come from fishermen.

They are the guys who are out there on the water doing their job and dealing with the issue of bycatch.  it directly affects them and their bottom line,” Osmond said.   

About 30% of the Smart Gear concepts have been transferred to commercial fisheries since the competition began in 2004.   For example, the ‘Eliminator’ out of Rhode Island was grand prize winner in 2007, designed to reduce bycatch of cod in haddock fisheries. The trawl net uses large mesh openings in the front and underbelly, and takes advantage of fish behavior to allow cod to escape.

“It has been adopted by quite a number of  fishermen on the east coast, and a modification of the net is being used successfully in the United Kingdom,” Osmond said.

Another winning gear, the Flexi-grid from the Faroe Islands, is now mandatory in the blue whiting fishery, and also is used in Russia and Iceland.  An entry from Argentinia also won for a simple plastic cone that attaches to warp cables on trawlers to keep sea birds away.

Since 2007 the Smart Gear contest is held every other year to allow time to advance the ideas and get them out on the water.

“Besides the cash prizes, money is also available afterwards to help advance the gears towards a commercial stage. So it’s a win/win situation for conservation, the industry and the fishermen themselves,” Osmond said.

The Smart Gear competition runs through August 31. Winners will be announced at Pacific Marine Expo in November. Get info and entry forms at

Crew recruits

The United Fishermen of Alaska is expanding its ranks to include deck hands. UFA represents 38 diverse fishing groups that span the state.

“Up until now you had to be a permit holder or IFQ holder,  but now crew license holders can be individual members for $150  per year,” said Mark Vinsel, UFA executive director.  “This will allow them to vote and to run for seats on the UFA board. We have an at-large election coming up this spring where there will be four seats open.”

The group also is closely tracking the new USCG fishing vessel safety regs, such as mandatory dockside exams, which begin next fall. 

“We really need to see them ramping up their ability to reach out to fishermen,” Vinsel said. “We want to make sure they don’t keep people in rural regions from fishing if they can’t reach them with these exams and trainings.”

At a recent meeting in Juneau the UFA board came out in support of the 37 inch maximum and one halibut per day restrictions for sport charter operators in Southeast Alaska.  

“We feel very strongly that all fisheries need to share in the burden of conservation when stocks decline,” Vinsel said.   

UFA also passed resolutions to restrict illegal crab fishing and imports of poached king crab from Russia. Just last week a federal forfeiture complaint was filed against 112 tons of pirated Russian king crab valued at more than $2.7 million.  Vinsel said UFA will back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for Alaska crab when the big USDA Farm Bill comes before Congress next year.

 “Here we have a situation where a huge amount of  illegally caught Russian king crab is coming into U.S. markets, but because king crab is typically sold cooked, it is not covered by COOL labeling, and we feel it needs to be,” he explained. Likewise, canned salmon is not included in the COOL program but it is considered “processed.”

Vinsel said UFA also will continue to push for parity with U.S. fish farmers under the Farm Bill.  Seafood is classified as an agricultural commodity in nearly all USDA programs, but wild seafood producers are excluded.

“Fish farmers are eligible for most USDA programs as producers of the same commodity in a very competitive environment. We need access to the same programs,” he said.

UFA also is on record for opposing genetically modified salmon, the Chuitna coal mine project in Cook Inlet and the Pebble Mine.

Caught in the act!  Sperm whales (and orcas) rob thousands of pricey sablefish (black cod) from longline hooks each year. Fishermen call it ‘getting whaled’ and it costs them untold losses in fish and dollars.

For the first time, researchers caught the culprits on video during a fishery in the Gulf of Alaska. The video shows sperm whales biting the line at one end and shaking the fish free, similar to shaking apples from a tree.  The video is part of SEASWAP, the ongoing Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project. The “grounds truth” is provided by members of the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA).

Researchers also discovered that the whales click more rapidly as they approach their targets. Scientists with Scripps Oceanography said the sounds are among the loudest ever produced by any animal.   video of sperm whale depredation on longline gear.    



This year marks the 21th year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. 


Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]
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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska


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