Laine Welch: Salmon catch and value were down this year

FisheriesNovember 17, 2012 

Alaska's salmon harvest and value for 2012 came in well below last year, dropping 21 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

According to preliminary state tallies, the value of the salmon catch totaled nearly $506 million at the docks this summer on a statewide catch of 124 million fish. That compares to a 2011 take of 177 million salmon valued at just more than $641 million.

A breakdown shows that the 2012 king harvest of 333,000 was worth $17.6 million; 35.2 million sockeyes were valued at nearly $246 million; the coho catch of 3 million rang in at about $22.5 million; pinks totaled 67 million fish worth more than $105 million; and the chum catch of 18.3 million was worth $114.5 million at the docks.

In terms of average prices, there were ups and downs. Kings brought fishermen $3.99 a pound, compared to $3.53 last summer. Sockeyes fell to $1.16, a drop of 15 cents a pound. Coho salmon also paid out at $1.16 on average, up a penny; pinks averaged 43 cents a pound, compared to 46 cents last season; and chums at 66 cents decreased by 18 cents a pound.

Some highlights: Prince William Sound had the highest prices for kings, averaging $5.33 a pound, sockeyes at $1.70 and pinks at 48 cents. Southeast sockeye prices averaged $1.55; at Cook Inlet, reds were worth $1.51; and sockeyes averaged $1 a pound at Bristol Bay. Kodiak reds averaged $1.41; $1.05 at Chignik; 84 cents per pound at the Alaska Peninsula; 85 cents in the Kuskokwim region, $1.45 at Norton Sound; and 75 cents at the Yukon.

The Yukon paid the highest price for chums at $1.18. Norton Sound paid the most for coho salmon at $1.47 a pound.

Here are the 2012 dockside values by region with 2011 values in parentheses: Southeast Alaska: $153.2 million ($206.6 million); Prince William Sound: $110.8 million ($103.3 million); Cook Inlet: $36 million ($52.4 million); Bristol Bay: $121 million ($160.4 million); Kodiak: $46.5 million ($50.2 million); Chignik: $13.7 million ($25.6 million); Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands: $17.5 million ($33.8 million); Kuskokwim: $2 million ($3 million); Yukon: $3.1 million ($3.4 million); Norton Sound: $759,000 ($1.2 million); and Kotzebue: $568,000 ($864,000).

These prices do not reflect bonuses or other increases based on post-season sales agreements.

Halibut haul

If Homer hasn't done it already, it's time for the town to take down its "America's #1 Halibut Port" sign.

For a second year running, Kodiak has topped Homer for halibut landings, this time by nearly 40 percent. The eight-month-long fishery closed on Nov. 7 and final catch data show that more than 5 million pounds of halibut crossed the Kodiak docks from 729 landings. Homer had 450 deliveries totaling just more than 4.4 million pounds.

Seward ranked third at 2.6 million pounds, followed by Dutch Harbor/Unalaska at about 2 million pounds. Sitka and Petersburg each had halibut landings of just more than 1 million pounds. In all, Alaska longliners landed 97 percent of the 24-million-pound halibut catch limit this year, leaving 700,000 pounds in the water.

Speaking of catch limits -- fishermen will get a first glimpse of what they can expect in 2013 when the International Pacific Halibut Commission holds its interim meeting later this month. The IPHC sets the catches for the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. Most fishermen are bracing for more bad news, as the harvest has been slashed by nearly 40 percent in the past two years. Scientists say lots of halibut are out there but the fish are smaller than they should be and are slow to enter the fishery. Most troubling, scientists believe they have overestimated the Pacific halibut biomass for years.

The IPHC also will consider four regulatory proposals for the halibut fishery. One asks for a modification on certain vessel categories; a second requests that harvest tickets be required for all sport-caught halibut and sablefish, saying it would provide more complete data for managers. A third proposal recommends that circle hooks be designated as the only legal gear for halibut, saying that J hooks and treble hooks tend to get swallowed by fish and are difficult to remove. A final proposal asks that sport charter operators be able to retain halibut on board their vessels.

The IPHC staff has made changes to make the meeting sessions more open and transparent. More time has been scheduled for the public to ask questions and, except for the finance and administration segments at the end of the second day, all sessions will be webcast. (In past meetings, only the initial staff presentations were webcast.) The IPHC will meet Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 28 and 29, at its offices in Seattle.

The annual meeting where final decisions will be made is set for Jan. 21-25 in Victoria, British Columbia.

More fish meetings

The catch quotas for pollock and cod, Alaska's largest fisheries, will be finalized by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its meeting Dec. 5-11 in Anchorage.

For Bering Sea pollock, the proposed catch is just slightly above the 2012 limit of 1.2 million metric tons, or roughly 3 billion pounds. Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific cod harvests could also see an upward tick to nearly 263,000 tons, an increase of 7 percent.

Catches in the Gulf of Alaska also are set to go a bit higher next year. Gulf pollock could increase by nearly 8 percent to more than 125,000 tons. For cod, the proposed catch tops 68,000 tons, up 4 percent. On the downside, Gulf sablefish could see a 166-ton reduction, with a proposed catch of roughly 12,800 tons.

Back in state waters (out to three miles), the Board of Fisheries begins its meeting cycle with a nine-day marathon from Dec. 4-12 in Naknek. The board will hear 87 proposals suggesting changes to regulations regarding commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries in the Bristol Bay region.

All meetings will be available by webcast.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaska.com.

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