2011 looks to be a boom year for Alaska fisheries

Laine Welch

Alaska is gearing up for huge harvests in its seafood industry next year -- demonstrating once again that it has one of the most productive and sustainable commercial fishing economies in the world.

The 2011 forecast calls for an anticipated boost in catches to 1.2 million tons for the nation's largest fishery -- Alaska pollock. Strong year classes that fish scientists have been tracking are finally recruiting into the Bering Sea fishery after a two-year wait, allowing for the quota increase.

Another crown jewel of Alaska's fisheries -- codfish -- is poised for a 23 percent catch boost next year to 281,300 tons from the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Alaska currently produces 65 percent to 70 percent of the world's Pacific cod and about 20 percent of the global codfish harvest. Alaska's cod fisheries begin on Jan. 1.

Other 2011 fish forecasts are trickling in. The sockeye catch at Bristol Bay is pegged at 28.5 million fish, based on a run of nearly 40 million reds, similar to this year. If the forecast proves true, it would be the eighth consecutive year where the total run is close to or tops 40 million sockeye salmon.

Also in Bristol Bay: Alaska's biggest roe herring fishery at Togiak has a forecast of nearly 25,000 tons next spring, down just a little.

State managers also are predicting an excellent 2011 pink salmon catch for Southeast fishermen of 55 million fish, compared with a lackluster humpy harvest of about 24 million this summer.


The Pacific halibut fishery ended last week amid little fanfare, although it is likely to be one for the record books in terms of value.

Alaska longliners landed 98 percent of a 40 million pound catch limit, leaving about 700,000 pounds in the water. Despite the lingering recession, demand for fresh fish held steady all season. Halibut prices started out topping $6 a pound at major ports and seldom dipped below $5 a pound during the eight-month fishery.

Nearly one-quarter of the total catch crossed the docks at Homer, followed by landings at Kodiak, Seward, Dutch Harbor and Sitka.

Fishermen are bracing for another possible catch cut next year as they wait for three large year classes of halibut to recruit into the fishery. The fish, however, are taking longer than usual to grow to the 32-inch legal limit.

Preliminary catch limits for 2011 will be announced by the International Pacific Halibut Commission at the end of November. The halibut fishery reopens in March. See www.iphc.washington.edu/.

Favorite fish taco

A nationwide search is under way for the best Alaska fish taco. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has partnered with celebrity chefs at the Los Angeles-based Border Grill to find the best one.

"Fish tacos are all the rage right now," said Claudia Hogue, ASMI food service director, adding that the contest is not limited to fish.

"Any species of crab or scallops would be eligible," she said. "We just wanted to keep the title as simple as possible so we called it a fish taco."

The taco contest is open only to at-home cooks, not professional chefs.

The winner gets a trip to Los Angeles, and the People's Choice prize is an iPad.

The entry deadline is Jan. 31. See the taco campaign and find an entry form at www.alaskafishtaco.com.

Fish bits

The call is out for product entries for the 18th annual Symphony of Seafood competition. Seafood products in retail, food service and smoked categories will be judged on Feb. 3 in Seattle; winners will be announced at a gala in Anchorage on Feb. 11; and a third seafood "sampler" has been added in Juneau on March 18. Get details at www.afdf.org.

A new website called Fish Basket, www.fishbasket.org, is promoting permanent protection at Bristol Bay from oil and gas exploration at Bristol Bay.

Get National Geographic's take on the proposed Pebble mine. Find "Alaska's Choice: Salmon or Gold" at www. nationalgeographic.com.

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