Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...


Fish Factor

Alaska's salmon season one of the best ever
By Laine Welch


August 26, 2005

Alaska's salmon harvest has already topped 200 million fish, making it one of the best seasons ever. And, for the third year in a row, the fishery will show an increase in value.
jpg Laine Welch

"The statewide, all species harvest is going to be up there in the top five or six seasons," said Geron Bruce, deputy director of the state Commercial Fisheries Division. The pre-season forecast for the 2005 salmon season was 181 million fish.

While fisheries will continue for several weeks in some regions, a brief sampler shows that the catch will be on target for the big money maker - sockeye salmon (reds) - at just over 42 million fish. The world's largest sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay provided more than half of that total at 24.2 million, combined with stronger than expected red returns to Prince William Sound and the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers in Lower Cook Inlet. "The upper systems in the Upper Inlet regions of the Mat-Su were very disappointing and won't even make escapement goals. We're concerned about that," Bruce said.

A pleasant surprise this year was the better than expected chum salmon returns to Western Alaska, namely, the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and Norton Sound. "The summer return on the Yukon was very good, and the fall return will be one of the best ever. Returns to Norton Sound weren't spectacular, but we met the upper end of our escapement goals in nearly all of the systems, and there actually were some increased opportunities to harvest chums in that area," Bruce said.

That was not the case for chum salmon in parts of Southeast Alaska where returns of hatchery fish were down by more than half. "We were expecting a downturn, but it was surprisingly poor," Bruce said.

For pink salmon - the industry's bread and butter fish - catches continue to come on strong in many areas and are approaching 150 million fish (the forecast was 114 million pinks). At Kodiak, for example, the summer humpy harvest has topped 28 million, making it the third highest on record. Bruce said the market outlook for pinks appears encouraging across the state, as most processors are still buying fish even at the higher than expected harvest numbers.

No one is pegging a value yet on the 2005 statewide salmon catch, but with prices up for all species in nearly every region, it's safe to say it will easily top last year's dockside value of $272 million (nearly $155 million of that was from sockeye salmon). This marks the third year in a row that Alaska's salmon fishery has increased in value. As a comparison, ten years ago the harvest was worth $487 million.

TA TA TO TAA - A boost in salmon prices means it's unlikely that Alaska fishermen will be able to collect more cash payouts from Uncle Sam. Since they are now classified as agricultural producers, salmon harvesters have recently been eligible for the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program because their bottom line has been badly hurt by increased imports of farmed fish, primarily from Chile. Through the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the TAA program provides cash payments up to $10,000 from a pot of $90 million that is available nationwide each year through 2007.

"Because of the increases in salmon prices, it doesn't look like we'll be running another sign up program for FY 2006, which would cover the 2004 marketing year," said Chad Padgett, director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Alaska. "But who knows, something could still come through," he added.

Meanwhile, TAA checks for the 2003 season totaling $2.1 million are now going out in the mail to 644 salmon fishermen. Of the more than 28,000 permit holders, only 1,500 applied for the benefit this year. Last year, closer to 4,300 fishermen applied and 1,700 were approved for a cash payout totaling $3.5 million for the 2002 salmon season. Alaska salmon fishermen have also showed a lack of interest in applying for generous TAA retraining and education benefits administered by the Dept. of Labor, and only a few hundred have applied.


Halibut prices used to take a dip in the summer during the salmon season, but that's not been the case for the past few years. In fact, prices continue to climb and fishermen have gotten good at pacing their catches to maintain a steady market. Landings have hovered around two million pounds per week since the fishery opened in late February.

A canvas of major buyers at ports around the state showed that fishermen are fetching 15 to 25 cents more a pound from mid-May, pretty much across the board. Halibut prices are usually broken out by weights at 10-20 pounds, 20-40 pounds and 40 ups. At Kodiak, dock prices were $2.75, $2.90 and $3.10 a pound. Prices at Homer ranged from $2.80 to $3.30 a pound. At Dutch Harbor, prices were $2.75, $2.95 and $3.15. In Southeast, halibut prices had jumped to $2.90, $3.05 and $3.25. So far, about 43 million pounds of halibut has crossed the docks, or 75 percent of the nearly 57 million pound catch limit. Top ports for halibut landings are Homer, Kodiak, Seward, Sitka and Juneau.

Prices for black cod (sablefish) are also through the roof, topping $4 a pound in several major ports. Black cod is broken out into five weights, ranging from under three pounds to seven ups. Overall, black cod prices were also up 15 to 25 cents since mid-May. Alaska longliners have harvested just over 28 million pounds, or nearly 80 percent of the 35.7 million pound catch quota. Top ports for black cod landings were Seward, Dutch Harbor, Sitka, Kodiak and Cordova. Alaska's black cod and halibut seasons end in mid-November.


Got hyperactive kids? Feed 'em fish!
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) can be calmed down with a daily dose of fish oil. That's the finding of researchers at the University of South Australia who tested 145 kids, aged seven to 12. In the study, half of the children took fish oil supplements high in omega three fatty acids, and the others did not. Four months later, the kids taking the fish oil showed improvements in attention, calmer behavior and vocabulary. The results are similar to studies done with children in England last year.

No adverse effects from the daily fish oil dosages were reported. By comparison, ritalin - the most commonly used drug to treat hyperactive kids - has been linked with suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, aggressive behavior and heart problems. Researchers said 60 percent of the human brain is made up of fats. They believe many people are deficient in omega three fatty acids, found especially in oily fish like salmon. A growing body of research is showing links between omega three deficiencies and mental health problems, like depression.

Eating fish can also help reduce one of the most dreaded events among the elderly - hip fractures. According to the Evening Times, scientists in Scotland studied nearly 600 patients over four years, and found that 92 percent of the victims of hip fractures lacked vitamin D in their diet. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and keeps bones healthy. The researchers recommended that elderly folks add foods fortified with vitamin D, like milk or cereals, to their diet, as well as oily fish. In fact, studies from around the world show overall health benefits from seafood can be derived from just several ounces of fish a week.


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 25 stations around the state. Laine lives in Kodiak.

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska