SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Salmon catch will be in top 20% of harvests since statehood


August 22, 2011

Alaska’s salmon season is on the home stretch and the catch will be far afield from early expectations of 203 million fish. 

“We’re going to definitely be short.  Pinks, chums and sockeyes all are going to be under forecast,” said Geron Bruce, deputy director of ADF&G’s commercial fisheries division.

For sockeye salmon, the big money fish, that’s due to a disappointing take of 20 million sockeyes at Bristol Bay, eight million shy of projections. 

Elsewhere, sockeye catches topped the forecasts  at Chignik, Cook Inlet and Copper River and Kodiak was average, but combined, they don’t  make up for the shortage at Bristol Bay. State managers predicted a total sockeye catch this year of 45 million reds.

Chum runs to most Gulf regions also are smaller than anticipated, especially at Southeast and Prince William Sound.

“We’re going to be short on the chums,” Bruce said. The forecast called for an Alaska harvest of 20 million chums.  

“We’ve had some nice chum returns to the AYK region (Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim), and they’ve had better fishing there than for a long time.  And they’re enjoying better prices like everyone else. So that’s really a plus,” he added.

Blame those hard to predict pinks for causing the season’s biggest shortfall.   The forecast called for a catch of 133 million pinks this, but it’s only half way there.  Bruce said good catches are still coming from Southeast, but it is kind of pokey in other regions.

“Southeast may come close to the forecast of 55 million pinks, but I think we will be lucky to get that,” Bruce said. “Prince William Sound was at 25 million, and they might make up some ground towards 38 million pinks. Kodiak’s catch is likely to end up around 20 million, about 8 million below forecast.” Bruce added.

So what might the tally be for Alaska’s 2011 salmon season?  Lots of pinks and cohos remain to be counted, but the best ‘guess-timate’ is 160-165 million fish.

“Still, It still will rank in the top 20% of Alaska’s salmon harvests since statehood,” Bruce said.  “And there’s been pretty good distribution all around the fishing regions. Not like last year when it was really concentrated in Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound and other areas really had subpar seasons.”

By August 19 the Alaska salmon count stood at 372,000 Chinook, 12.8 million chums, 1.7 million coho, 94.7 million pinks and 39.6 million sockeye salmon – for a total of just over 149 million fish.

SOS is a go

The state Supreme Court has ruled that residents in the Lake and Peninsula Borough can vote on a ballot initiative that could derail the Pebble Mine. The Save Our Salmon measure would add language to the Borough’s permitting code to protect its lands from ‘significant adverse impacts on salmon habitat.’     

Pebble backers filed two lawsuits to try and halt the measure. Earlier this month, the State of Alaska aligned itself with Pebble in court to stop the vote, saying it would set a precedent and threaten other development.

That did not sit well with residents from the region - when they got wind of it. 

“The Bristol Bay Native Corporation was certainly disappointed that Gov. Parnell and  Attorney General John Burns were involved in this initiative at the borough level, and we asked them to withdraw their amicus curiae, or friend of the court briefing, in the Lake and Peninsula borough,” said Jason Metrokin,  President and CEO of BBNC, which has nearly 9,000 shareholders.

In an August 11 letter, BBNC asked Governor Parnell  to “not stand between residents and the ballot box.”   The letter also said the State should have waited until after the local election to pursue any litigation. 

“If the initiative is approved at the borough level, the state still has an opportunity to participate in what is likely to be some post election litigation, should they choose,” Metrokin said.  “This is a very local issue. People in the borough have spoken that they would like to weigh in on their ability to protect salmon in their part of the watershed.  We didn’t think that a preemptive action was the appropriate time.”

The Governor’s pro-Pebble stance in court took people by surprise, according to Metrokin.

“This was news to us,” he said. “No, we have not heard from the governor directly on the Pebble issue and certainly we did not hear from him on this borough initiative. And we would very much enjoy sitting down with the governor and his team and various agencies that are involved in this process.”

The BBNC is opposed to the Pebble Mine, “but our voice of opposition is a little different than what folks are seeing and hearing in the media. Our position is very much based on the local sentiment in the Bristol Bay region of the vast majority of the residents , including our shareholders, who are opposed to the Pebble project because of its location and potential size, and because of its impact on the environment and the fishery that is so important to Bristol Bay.”

Lake and Peninsula Borough voters will go to the polls on October 4.

Salmon gains

Sales values for Alaska salmon show steady gains  for all of the products that go to world markets. The Annual Salmon Price Report (ASPR) by the state Dept. of Revenue tracks wholesale prices for six product forms: fresh and frozen headed/gutted fish (H&G), fresh and frozen fillets, canned salmon and roe.       

A look at average values for all of 2010 and the first four months of 2011 shows big increases - Cases of canned sockeye (talls) averaged about $123 last year; through April, the value was $145 per case.   

The bulk of Alaska’s salmon is sold headed/gutted and frozen.  For Chinook, that price averaged $3.63 last year; and $4.12 through April; fresh Chinook prices jumped more than $2 to $9.23.   The wholesale average  for frozen sockeye fillets increased from $4.92 in 2010  to $6.29  this year.  Frozen pink salmon averaged $1.29 a pound last year.  Alaska chums continued their steady price gains, with frozen fish averaging $1.60 last year, and $1.78 through April. The wholesale price for fresh chums has increased 45-cents over two years. 

The biggest gains are seen in salmon roe prices.  Pink roe  averaged $9.94 a pound through April, up more than $4.00 from 2010 . Sockeye roe increased from  $5.56  to $7.01 and wholesale prices for chum roe averaged  $9.17 last year compared to $13.50 through April. Find the Salmon Price Reports at


This year marks the 21st 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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