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State salmon harvest projected to be lower than last year's

Laine Welch

State fishery managers project a lower Alaska salmon harvest this year due to an expected decrease in those hard-to-predict pinks.

The total catch forecast by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is 132 million salmon, down 25 percent from the 177 million fish taken in 2011.

The statewide breakdown is 120,000 king salmon (in areas outside Southeast, where catches are dictated by treaty with Canada); 38.4 million sockeye salmon, a decline of 4 percent; 4.3 million coho (similar to last year); 19 million chums, 12 percent higher; and 70.2 million pinks, a 40 percent decrease.

Each year's annual report on salmon harvest projections also includes a detailed review of the 2011 season for every Alaska region. In all, the fishery produced a catch valued at $603 million at the docks, the third-highest ever.

Some 2011 highlights: Southeast Alaska's salmon catch rang in at $200 million, a record since statehood, and the highest-value salmon fishery for the year. The region's pink salmon catch of 59 million fish fetched an average price of 42 cents a pound at the docks, and totaled $94 million. Chums, at 81 cents per pound, were the second-most valuable, adding another $60 million to the Panhandle last summer. More than 1,900 permit holders fished in Southeast, a 4 percent increase.

In Prince William Sound, the salmon harvest topped 39 million fish, most of which were pinks, 33.4 million. For the Copper River area, the sockeye catch topped 2 million fish. The 20,000 king catch was below the 10-year average.

In the Upper Cook Inlet, the harvest of 5.5 million sockeye salmon was the fourth-largest in the past 20 years. The dockside value of $51.6 million was the fifth-highest since 1960, and the highest since 1992. All five salmon species are caught in the upper Inlet, but sockeye have accounted for nearly 93 percent of the fishery over the past 20 years. The estimated value of $518,000 for king salmon was about 1 percent of the value of the UCI fishery.

Bristol Bay's sockeye catch of 21.9 million was 21 percent below expectations. The preliminary value of the Bay's total salmon catch of 22.7 million fish was $137.7 million, 17 percent above the 20-year average.

Kodiak had its highest participation in 11 years with 339 (57 percent) of the region's 593 permit holders going fishing. Kodiak's salmon catch of 20 million fish value topped $44.2 million, the highest since 1990 and double the 10-year average. Kodiak salmon seiners (175) averaged $120,161 last summer; set gillnetters (157) averaged $31,137.

That was dwarfed at Chignik, where 65 permit holders averaged $371,327 each, the highest value ever. At Chignik the salmon fishery was worth almost $24 million. Nearly 2.5 million sockeye were taken at Chignik, 150 percent higher than the average harvest for the past five years.

The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region had a total harvest of nearly 1.5 million salmon, valued at $8 million. King salmon catches were well below average, while chum and coho salmon harvests were well above.

A total of 510 permit holders fished in the Kuskokwim area, where the ex-vessel value was about $2.3 million for the region.

In the lower Yukon, a total of 82 king salmon were taken in the commercial fishery, but none in the upper river. A total of 409 permit holders participated in the summer chum fishery, about 15 percent below the 10-year average. The fall chum fishery on the lower Yukon was the largest since 1995; the coho harvest was the largest since 1991. The average price for both was $1 per pound, meaning a record value of $2.1 million for the region.

Norton Sound's salmon fishery included the second-highest chum catch since 1986, and was a record $1.27 million in dockside value. A total of 123 permits fished, the highest since 1993. The average prices were $1.70 for coho salmon, and 68 cents for chums.

For Kotzebue Sound, the catch of 264,321 chums was the second-highest since 1995. A total of 89 permit holders fished, compared with 67 last year, and the highest number since 1995. The total value was nearly $868,000, meaning $9,743 to each fisherman.

All of the values are preliminary and will go higher after the final Commercial Annual Operator Reports are submitted to the state by Alaska fish buyers. Those will include bonuses paid for iced fish -- up to 15 cents a pound in some regions -- and other price adjustments and sales factors. It will be interesting to see if Bristol Bay topples Southeast to regain its title as Alaska's most valuable salmon fishery.

See the full report at www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/SP12-01.pdf

Pings, scales and skins

Underwater alarms called pingers are putting a stop to marine mammal bycatch in fishing nets. The pingers emit a low frequency specifically aimed at migrating humpback whales to warn them away from shark nets off Australia's East Coast.

The pingers are designed and made by Fumunda Marine at the University of the Sunshine Coast's Innovation Centre. Since the pingers came into use two years ago, only one whale was entangled in each year and both were safely released. The Queensland government, which backed the pinger project, said the devices could save hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year.

Extra-tough fish scales that can crack piranha teeth have been discovered by University of California researchers. The scales come from a huge fish from Brazil called the arapaima.

Known as the ancient river monster, it's one of the world's largest fresh water fish and can grow to 10 feet and top 400 pounds. It's also one of the few air breathing fish in existence. Each of its scales is coated with a rock-hard mineral material, with soft cores made from strings of stretchy protein. Researchers believe the scales could be replicated and used to make better body armor for soldiers or sturdier prostheses. Find a report on the fish scales in the journal Advanced Biomaterials.

Pollock skins are a new source for nanofibers that have a similar tissue structure to human organs and skin.

"Hopefully, if you have a damaged organ you can grow these cells outside the body and they can be introduced into the wound and help improve the ability of the organ to heal itself," said Bor-Sen Chiou, lead researcher at the USDA lab in Albany, Calif.

Studies show that fish gelatin improves cell growth better than mammalian gels.

Catch this!

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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.


LAINE WELCH
FISHERIES