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Fish Factor

Alaska's 2010 salmon season


May 04, 2010
Tuesday AM

It's hard to believe, but Alaska's 2010 salmon season officially begins in less than two weeks with the May 13 opener for kings and reds at Copper River!

State fishery managers project a total commercial catch of 1.27 million sockeye salmon from Copper River this season, compared to less than 900,000 last year.

"We're expecting lots of four year old fish so that bodes well for the season," said Fish and Game's Steve Moffitt at Cordova.

As with many other regions of the state, the expectations for king salmon at Copper River are low, with a projected catch of just 17,000 Chinook. Last year the drift fleet of roughly 500 boats took 9,500 king salmon from the famous River, the lowest catch since the 1960s.

Meanwhile, Southeast Alaska trollers wrapped up their winter king salmon fishery with a harvest of about 32,000 fish. The dock price averaged $7.46 per pound and the kings averaged 13.24 pounds during the winter season. Trollers now swing right into the Spring fishery that starts on May 1. In all, just under 222,000 Chinook salmon can be taken in Southeast this year by all gears, an increase of 3,000 from last season. Those catches are dictated by treaty agreements with Canada.

Speaking of king salmon: for the first time in three years, Alaska will face competition from West Coast fisheries. The Pacific Fishery Management Council recently finalized this summer's salmon numbers, giving trollers the ok to land 194,700 kings. That's 52.2% higher than last season's catch, according to Seafood Trend's Ken Talley. Washington and the tip of Oregon will be the drivers of that fishery, which also begins on May 1. For Alaska, the statewide king salmon catch for 2010 is expected to increase slightly to 515,000 fish.

Market reports indicate that wild salmon prices should be strong this year - several call the sockeye market 'white hot' due in great part to huge drops in competing farmed fish from Chile.

The 2010 statewide, all species harvest for Alaska is pegged at 138 million salmon, 15 percent fewer fish than in 2009. The shortfall stems from an expected decrease in pink salmon.

Alaska's 2009 salmon catch of 162.5 million fish was the 12th largest since 1960. The dockside value of $370 million was a decline of $82 million from the previous year, reflecting the squeeze by the global recession. Salmon prices to fishermen were down across the board last year.

Average dock prices in 2009 were $2.62 per pound for king salmon, down almost $2.00 from 2008; 80 cents for sockeye, down 4 cents; 86 cents for coho, down 84 cents; pinks fell from 35 cents to 22 cents, and the average dock price for chums last year was 44 cents a pound, down from 59 cents in 2008.

Oil spill perspectives

Fishing ports under assault by the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico include Empire-Venice, Louisiana - the nation's third largest port for seafood landings. That and other ports in the region supply a third of the nation's oysters, and bring in a quarter of the seafood in the continental U.S.

The first bands of the expanding oil spill are reaching the fertile nurseries of the Gulf's coastal estuaries at a time when newly spawned larvae of shrimp and crabs - the catch of the future - face the greatest risk from oil because they are largely immobile and are closer to the surface. It's also nesting time for sea turtles, and when slow-swimming manatees return to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Picayune-Times reports that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries opened the shrimp season early both east and west of the Mississippi River in an attempt to give shrimpers a chance to make money before the oil comes ashore. The Coast Guard estimates more than 200,000 gallons of oil are still spewing each day from the blown-out well one mile underwater, which also claimed 12 lives.

Point Hope calls a halt

Meanwhile, residents of Point Hope are in Washington, D.C. calling for a stop to Shell's oil exploration plans this summer in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

"The Gulf of Mexico is a highly industrialized area with facilities and personnel already in place to deal with oil spills. But they still haven't been able to get that under control. If this were to happen in the Arctic it would be devastating to the marine environment and the people who rely on the resources, and we just can't allow that to happen," said attorney Peter van Tyne.

He said the fact that the rig that exploded was being used for exploration should help make the case to the Interior Department that it is just too dangerous to attempt in the Arctic.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company would not consider working in the Arctic if it couldn't do it safely, and that the exploratory equipment to be used there is much different than the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The sub-surface rests for our proposed wells in Alaska are different, most notably in terms of water depth and pressure. I think it's fair to say there are unique problems with the well incident in the Gulf that we don't fully understand yet, but that we would not expect while drilling in Alaska," he told the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Smith said Shell is moving ahead with its exploration plans, and the company will have "unprecedented" oil spill response capability while it works in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

"We have a dedicated fleet of vessels, booms, barges, tankers and specialized ice equipment that will be onsite 24/7," Smith said, "and staged to react immediately in the extremely unlikely event of a spill or another problem."

Poo power!

Australian scientists have discovered that whale poo is not only helping ocean plant life to flourish, but also increasing the ocean's ability to absorb CO2. EcoGeek reports that because whales' diets are made up largely of iron-rich krill (small crustaceans), their droppings are a great fertilizer for marine plants, helping them to grow like weeds (or algae). These plants then do their part by absorbing CO2 as they grow, a process that scientists have tried to amp up (unsuccessfully) in Antarctic waters with iron fertilization.

This weekly column focusing on Alaska's seafood industry began in 1991, and it now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A spin off - Fish Radio - airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic and social importance of Alaska's fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. Happy New Year and thanks for your continued support of fishing news!

Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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