It might feel like winter, but Alaska's 2013 salmon season officially gets under way on May 16, when the first runs of reds and kings are scheduled to arrive at Copper River.
The season's first fish will attract the usual media hoopla -- helicopters whisking salmon from the fishing grounds to waiting planes, ready to fly them to eager restaurateurs and retailers in Seattle and points beyond.
New among the salmon groupies will be two Texas chefs who will fish for Copper River salmon themselves, then stop over at the Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau before heading home to host a VIP dinner featuring salmon and beer.
The Copper River's projected catch of 1.3 million sockeye and 19,800 kings will be part of an Alaska season expected to yield 179 million salmon, 30 percent more than in 2012.
Pushing this year's forecast is a bumper run of pink salmon, which could jump 73 percent to 118 million fish.
The projected catch breakdown for other salmon species:
- 34.3 million sockeyes, down 1 percent;
- 3.9 million silvers, up slightly;
- 23 million chums, a 1 percent increase.
When Alaskans think of Juneau they don't usually think of commercial fishing, but in fact the seafood industry is the largest private employer in the Capital City.
Juneau is home to 800 fishermen, 330 fishing vessels and four seafood processors. Last year nearly 18 million pounds of seafood, valued at $28 million, was landed in the city. Juneau is ranked No. 43 among U.S. ports for volume of fish landings and No. 39 for value.
"The fishing industry, apart from our processors, is lots of individual, small businesses," said Brian Holst, director of the Juneau Economic Development Council. "If you compare it to mining, which is something Juneau is well known for, we have more employment in the seafood industry than we do in the mining sector. So it is very important in our community."
That message will be spotlighted May 19 at Juneau's fourth annual Maritime Festival, which will include First Alaskans arriving in canoes, dancing, seafood samples, fishing boat tours and a filleting contest.
As of May 3, boats and tenders were waiting for fish to arrive at Togiak in Bristol Bay, Alaska's largest roe herring fishery.
Kodiak fishermen had passed the halfway mark for their 5,600-ton roe herring quota.
Final tallies at Sitka showed the herring fleet took less than half its 11,000-ton quota. The herring were robust, with 13 percent roe averages. The advance price was reported to be $500 a ton.
Jiggers continue to target Pacific cod throughout the Gulf.
Halibut longliners have been on the water for more than a month with catches so far of less than 4 million pounds of their 22-million-pound limit.
Sablefish (black cod) landings had reached 7 million pounds of the 28-million-pound quota. Another sablefish fishery opens along the Aleutian Islands on May 15.
Bering Sea crabbers were scratching up the last of their snow crab catches, with about 3 million pounds left in their 60-million-pound quota.
Shrimp fisheries are occurring on and off in Prince William Sound and the Panhandle.
And Panhandle trollers were on the water targeting spring kings.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.