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Bristol Bay fishermen jubilant over $1.50-a-pound red salmon price

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times
A sharp rise in the price that fish processors pay for red salmon helped turn a so-so season on Alaska's productive Bristol Bay into a profitable one. Prince William Sound Marketing Assn.

Run forecasts and catch totals failed to meet expectations in Bristol Bay this summer, but commercial harvesters were jubilant as word spread of a $1.50-a-pound base price.

The Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association confirmed that price, which is up 50 cents from a base of $1 a pound for the last two years.

In addition, word among the harvesters was that at least several processors were adding 15 cents for refrigerated seawater, and an additional 5 cents for bleeding the fish.

"People are ecstatic," said Shawn Doctermann, a drift gillnetter from Kodiak, who has fished Bristol Bay for more than 25 years. "There were parties last night. It made a not so good season into a fairly lucrative one for the fleet."

"Elation ... and dancing in the streets," was the way another fisheries veteran described the mood around Naknek. "If they caught the same amount this year as last, they're better off."

Given the prospect of Silver Bay Seafoods opening a new processing facility at Naknek in 2014, other processors already established in the area were expected to match those base prices.

As of July 13, the Bristol Bay daily run summary issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game showed a total run for the Ugashik, Egegik, Naknek-Kvichak, Nushagak and Togiak districts of 22,586,817 salmon, with a cumulative harvest of 15,196,007 salmon, and cumulative escapement of 7,240,810 salmon.

The ADF&G forecast was for a run of 26.03 million fish, with a cumulative harvest of 17 million salmon and escapement of 8.50 million fish.

The economic significance of the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery spreads far beyond Bristol Bay, supporting a significant number of jobs in this multi-million dollar industry in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.

In Alaska alone, the Bristol Bay fishery supports 4,369 jobs in fishing and processing; plus 3,227 in Washington state; 2,143 in Oregon; 553 in California and 1,629 in other states, according to a recent report by researchers at the University of Alaska's Institute for Social and Economic Research. The fishery also creates an additional 7,800 jobs nationwide due to multiplier effects of retailing in grocery stores, restaurant and more and development of value-added products, they said.

The state of Alaska preliminary commercial salmon harvest summary noted that as of July 14, commercial harvesters had caught 265,000 king, 10,176,000 chum, 282,000 silver, 17,954,000 pink and 24,148,000 sockeye salmon, for a statewide total of 52,824,000 salmon.

In Prince William Sound, the total catch rose to 19,521,000 fish, including 14,190,000 pink, 3,228,000 chum, 2,089,000 red, 10,000 king and 4,000 silver salmon. For the Copper River district alone, the harvest stood at 1.5 million fish, including 1,509,000 red, 14,000 pink, 11,000 chum, 9,000 king, and 1,000 silvers.

For Cook Inlet, the harvest reached 910,000 fish, with 834,000 reds, mostly from the central district of Upper Cook Inlet, comprising the bulk of the harvest.

Southeast Alaska had a catch of 8.5 million fish, including 4.9 million chum, 2.9 million pink, 275,000 red, 218,000 silver and 194,000 Chinook salmon.

The westward region harvest, including the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik and Kodiak, reached 7.5 million fish, including 5,720 red, 881,000 chum, 854,000 pink, 44,000 silver and 22,000 kings.

The South Peninsula had 2.7 million salmon, including 1.7 million red, 465,000 chum, 458,000 pink, 39,000 silver and 3,000 king. At Chignik, harvesters have delivered 2.1 million salmon, including 1,966,000 red, 97,000 chum, 77,000 pink, and 2,00 each of king and silver salmon. Kodiak harvesters to date have delivered more than 2 million fish, including 1,472,000 red, 318,000 pink, 283,000 chum, 18,000 king and 4,000 silver salmon.

In the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region, the chum harvest rose to 341,000 fish on the Lower Yukon, 39,000 fish on the Upper Yukon , 44,000 chum, 2,000 king and 35,000 sockeye in Kuskokwim Bay and 36,000 chum in Norton Sound.

All figures are preliminary. The harvest is updated online daily by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Margaret Bauman is a reporter for The Cordova Times. Reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com. Used with permission.