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Fish Factor

No reliable word yet on value of Alaska's 2006 salmon harvest
By Laine Welch


September 18, 2006

There are still a few stragglers out on the grounds, but by now most salmon fishermen have stowed their gear until next season. While catch numbers are still being calculated, it's clear that Alaska's 2006 salmon harvest will fall short of expectations. Managers predicted that the 2006 harvest for all species would be 160 million fish (well below last year's record catch of 221 million salmon), but the reality will add up to far less.

Total salmon catches through September 15 were approaching 136 million fish, down 19 percent from the preseason forecast. At best, the season will likely wind up at around 140 million salmon down a whopping 37 percent from last year's catch. The big dip stemmed from a surprising shortfall in those tough to predict pink salmon returns in several regions of the state. Managers projected a catch of 108 million, but the total will be about 70 million pinks this season.

The total humpy harvest in Southeast Alaska, for example, was pegged at more than 50 million but came in at closer to 10 million, the region's lowest catch since 1988. Conversely, Kodiak experienced a surprisingly strong pink salmon return ­ the fishery was expecting a pink harvest of 18 million but it topped 31 million, one of the best pink harvests ever. Kodiak usually provides about 20 percent of the state's pink pack, but this year it will be closer to 40 percent.

Looking at Alaska's other four salmon species - sockeye catches came in better than expected at nearly 42 million, thanks primarily to a strong performance at Bristol Bay. Coho salmon (silvers) are still coming in at many regions with a harvest total of 3.4 million. The preseason forecast called for five million coho. The summer king salmon catch of just over 576,000 is slightly below forecast. Chum catches came on stronger than expected with the harvest topping 20 million, compared to a projection of 17.5 million fish.

No reliable word yet on the estimated value of Alaska's 2006 salmon harvest. Upward ticks in most prices are likely to be canceled out by the lower catch numbers. Last year's salmon harvest rang in at $305 million at the docks, the first time the value broke the $300 million barrier since 1999 when the harvest value was $370 million.

Some comparisons: Alaska's salmon catch was worth $257 million in 2004 and $195 million in 2003.

Crab harvest hints - The numbers won't be out for another week or two, but Bering Sea crabbers are starting to get some hints at how much king and snow crab they might pull up during the 2006/2007 seasons.
At a meeting last week industry members got a first look at the results of the annual summer trawl surveys, which indicated increases in the numbers of mature male crabs for both stocks. According to market analyst john Sackton, the survey data showed the number of legal red king crab at Bristol Bay increased from an estimated 16.2 million animals to 17.4 million. Those king crab stocks appear to be at their highest levels since 1982, managers said.

Early guess-timates indicate this year's red king crab catch will be similar or slightly higher than last year's total of about 18 million pounds. But whatever the catch quota is, 4.6 percent will be taken off the top to account for high levels of discards due to highgrading last season. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery opens October 15.

For snow crab (opilio Tanner), the outlook is a bit more uncertain. The summer trawl survey showed an apparent increase in legal males from 69 million to 135 million crabs. The scientists caution, however, that the large increase came from a very small number of samples. But given that the data show an increase in mature males, it's likely the harvest of snow crab could be higher than last year's catch of just over 37 million pounds, Sackton said. The snow crab fishery opens in mid-January.

Meanwhile, the market outlook for snow crab is ticking upwards. (Fishermen averaged about a buck a pound last season.) The market for king crab remains jittery - Bristol Bay red king crab last year averaged about $4.50 a pound but an over supplied market will likely keep a downward press on those prices this year. Ken Talley of Seafood Trends reported that early landings from the golden king crab that began in August fetched between $1.45 a pound up to $1.80, well below the average $2.69 a pound from last year.

Royals prefer wild - Prince Charles, the next king of England, is taking heat for snubbing farmed salmon from Scotland in favor of Alaska fish. The fish press has been abuzz with the story since headlines announced that the Prince is using wild Alaska salmon in his organic and natural products company, Duchy Originals. The salmon, which is smoked in Scotland, is being featured at more than 70 outlets throughout Britain and expanding to others. According to the Scotland Herald, the salmon is promoted as being "line caught in icy, clear Alaskan waters." The Scottish Salmon Producers Organization criticized the Prince for choosing fish that "comes from thousands of miles away, rather than a product produced on his own doorstep."

A spokeswoman said that Prince Charles selected Alaska salmon because it is certified as earth friendly and well managed by the international Marine Stewardship Council. Prince Charles has long been outspoken in his concerns that farmed salmon are ruining the future of Britain's wild stocks.

Omega 3's top high tech - By now it is common knowledge that omega three fatty acids found in fish (especially salmon) help prevent heart attacks. Now a new study shows that fish oils might save more lives than cardiac defibrillators, machines that help an out of control heart get back to a normal beating pattern. Researchers at the Heart Center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota tried to quantify the potential public impacts of increased omega three consumption in American adults via fish oil supplements. Using computer simulations based on prior research, the scientists found that 58 lives would be saved each year from heart attacks out of 100,000 subjects ­ or 6.6 percent - simply by raising the intake of omega threes. Conversely, implanted defibrillators would lower cardiac death rates by 3.3 percent. The study is published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine.


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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