Laine Welch: Managers foresee big bump in season's salmon harvest

Laine Welch

More wild salmon from Alaska will make its way to world markets this year if forecasts hold true for the 2013 season.

State salmon managers project a total catch of nearly 179 million fish this year, 30 percent higher than the 2012 harvest of 127 million. Pushing the higher catch is a robust return of pink salmon that could yield 118 million fish, 73 percent higher than last summer's harvest of 68 million humpies.

The catch projection for other salmon species is: 110,000 chinook in areas outside Southeast Alaska; for sockeyes, the big-money fish, a harvest of 34.3 million, down 1 percent from last year; for cohos, a catch of 3.9 million, just slightly higher; and a chum catch of 22.7 million, up 1 percent.

In terms of total harvests last year, Southeast Alaska led all other regions at nearly 37 million salmon landed, followed by Prince William Sound at about 35 million. Bristol Bay placed third with a catch of just more than 22 million salmon. Kodiak placed fourth, topping 20 million salmon, and Upper Cook Inlet was a distant fifth with about 4 million fish.

For total salmon value in 2012, Southeast came out on top for the second year running with $153.2 million, Bristol Bay ranked second with $121 million and Prince William Sound was third with nearly $111 million. They were followed by Kodiak at $46.5 million, Cook Inlet at $36.2 million, Alaska Peninsula/Aleutians at $17.5 million, Chignik at $13.8 million, Yukon at $3.1 million, Kuskokwim at $2 million, Norton Sound at $759,000 and Kotzebue at $568,000.

Some salmon sales soar

Much of Alaska's salmon pack gets sold long after fishermen hang up their nets. The state Department of Revenue's Tax Division tracks sales throughout the year by region for canned, frozen/fresh fish and salmon eggs, called roe.

Sales from September through December 2012 show big gains for some products compared to the previous year. Canned sockeye salmon, for example, sold wholesale for more than $193 for a case of tall cans in 2012, an increase of more than $12 from 2011. For pinks, a case of talls topped $103 last year, up more than $15.

Roe prices surged for all salmon, especially for the most popular species: pinks and chums. For pink salmon, more than 5.5 million pounds of roe fetched nearly $12 a pound, compared to about $8.50 in 2011. For chums, more than 3.2 million pounds were sold from September through December at $18.76 a pound, an increase of $5 a pound.

Most Alaska salmon is sold headed, gutted and frozen. Those prices decreased across the board last year. Sales show that Alaska processors are continuing to shift to fillet production -- notably for sockeye salmon.

In 2011, about 7 million pounds of sockeye fillets were sold in the last four months of the year, valued at nearly $42 million. In 2012, fillets totaled nearly 9 million pounds, valued at more than $51 million.

For Bristol Bay, the world's largest sockeye salmon producer, fillet sales reached $15.5 million from September through December, double the value for the same period in 2011.

DNR denied

The Alaska Superior Court ruled on Feb. 25 that the Department of Natural Resources violated its own rules by denying Alaskans their right to keep water in streams to protect wild salmon runs.

The decision in Chuitna Citizens Coalition vs. DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan is especially important as the Alaska Legislature considers bills (HB 77/SB 26) introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell, which will ax the entire statutory scheme for in-stream flow protections designed to ensure that salmon have enough water to survive before other out-of-stream uses are permitted.

"It's sad when Alaskans have to spend time and money suing our own government in order to uphold the state's constitution, which mandates that we sustain our salmon fisheries," Ron Burnett of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition said in a press release.

The coalition is a group of property owners, fishermen and hunters concerned about protecting wild salmon habitat in the face of proposed large-scale coal strip mining in upper Cook Inlet.

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

Laine Welch