Southeast salmon, Kodiak halibut claim top spots

FISHERIESNovember 12, 2011 

Notable shuffling is going on among Alaska's fisheries this year, with Southeast besting Bristol Bay as the state's top salmon region and Kodiak toppling Homer as the No. 1 halibut port. Homer has held the top ranking for halibut landings ever since the fishery went to Individual Fishing Quotas in 1995, and deliveries extended from a few days to eight months.

But the latest catch statistics show that this year Kodiak has displaced Homer with more fish deliveries and poundage crossing the docks on the Rock.

With about a week remaining in the halibut fishery and 1 million pounds left to catch, Kodiak likely will hold the lead.

The latest landings count by NOAA Fisheries-Juneau showed Kodiak at 5.68 million pounds from 719 deliveries, followed by Homer with 5.59 million pounds of halibut from 533 deliveries.

For salmon, Southeast Alaska ranked first this year with the most valuable salmon harvest in the state, worth more than $203 million, a $70 million increase over 2010.

Southeast salmon fishermen landed nearly 74 million fish this season, double last year. Nearly 60 million of the fish were pinks valued at $92 million.

Bristol Bay, usually Alaska's most valuable salmon fishery, came in second with a value of $137 million on a catch of 23 million fish. That compares with $185 million and 31.5 million salmon last year.

Prince William Sound's salmon catch ranked third at $101 million, although that reflects a drop of $58 million from last year on a catch of 38 million salmon, down by half.

Other highlights: The Cook Inlet salmon fishery totaled $56 million, thanks to a catch of 5.5 million sockeyes. That's an increase of $22 million over last year.

Kodiak fishermen saw a nice $30 million boost to $47 million on a catch of 20 million salmon. Salmon fishermen at Chignik also got a $10 million bump up to nearly $24 million for their salmon this year.

Yukon fishermen doubled their catch and its value to nearly $3.5 million on a catch of 600,000 salmon, mostly 85-cent chums.

Alaska Peninsula and Kuskokwim fisheries both experienced slight drops in their salmon catches and values.

The big salmon picture

The 2011 pink salmon harvest, valued at more than $170 million, set an all-time record; chum salmon fetched $93 million, the third-highest value; and sockeye salmon were worth almost $296 million, ranking at sixth place among historic sockeye harvests. Chinook and coho harvests, at $20 and $23 million, were about in the middle of their historic value averages.

At $603 million, Alaska's 2011 salmon catch is the third most valuable since 1975, and likely to end up at No. 2 after final sales are reported by processors and buyers next spring.

If so, it will displace the 2010 salmon season from second place with its value of $605 million. Alaska's most valuable salmon season ever was $725 million in 1988.

Find all of Alaska's 2011 salmon prices and values by region.

Click on the PDF link to see trends in Alaska salmon prices-values from 1980 through 2011, provided by UAA fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp.

Pollock comes up short

Alaska's pollock fishery in the Bering Sea was tough this year and ended up leaving lots of fish in the water when the fall season closed on Nov. 1.

"In normal years the pollock fleet harvests their entire quota. This year, due to reasons unknown, the pollock fishery was unable to harvest all the quota and left about 63,000 metric tons in the water," said Josh Keaton at NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

Still, the Bering Sea fleet took 95 percent of the 1.2 million-ton quota, or nearly 3 billion pounds. Keaton said there's lots of pollock out there, but the fish were more scattered.

"They just weren't as concentrated as they normally are. It takes a lot longer to tow to get the same amount of pollock as in a normal year," Keaton told KUCB in Unalaska.

Looking ahead, fewer pollock might be available in the Bering Sea next year. Federal scientists have revised numbers downward after annual surveys showed a drop in pollock biomass. Scientists also are concerned that the number of young fish might have been overestimated. A draft assessment also cites slow fishing by the Bering Sea pollock fleet this year as a reason for potentially reducing the 2012 pollock quota.

Conversely, Gulf of Alaska pollock catches are continuing their upward trend. If fish managers give the numbers a nod next month, the 2012 Gulf pollock catch will be nearly 122,000 tons -- an increase of more than 25,000 tons from this year.

Alaska pollock is the nation's largest fishery, producing nearly one-quarter of all U.S. landings. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will set 2012 pollock and other fishing quotas in early December.

Seafood sharing

American Seafoods Co. is again seeking applications for its Alaska community grant program. A total of $30,000 will be donated to projects that target issues such as housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. Recipients in a similar round in February included the Homer Community Food Pantry ($1,695), Sand Point Boys & Girls Club ($1,575), City of St. Paul ($2,342), and the Bristol Bay Regional Food Bank ($2,145).

Since 1997, ASC has granted more than $990,000 to organizations, scholarships and programs in rural Alaska, and will pass the $1 million mark when these grants are awarded in December. Find applications online at www.americanseafoods.com, or contact Kim Lynch at kim.lynch@americanseafoods.com or 206-256-2659. The deadline is Dec. 1.


Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her column appears Sundays in the Daily News. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing on your website or newsletter, contact msfish@alaska.com.

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