Laine Welch: Pink salmon plentiful; Domino's disses halibut

Laine Welch

With pink salmon coming in stronger than expected, Alaska's salmon catch this summer is poised to blow past the pre-season forecast of 179 million fish.

"We are going to be short on sockeyes by 5 million or so, and we're probably not going to make the chum salmon numbers either. So we'll have to go over with pinks, but at the rate things are going, that is entirely possible," said Geron Bruce, deputy director of Fish and Game's Commercial Fisheries division.

As of Friday, the total pink catch had surged to nearly 114 million -- the forecast was for 118 million, 73 percent higher than last year -- and nets were still filling.

Three regions provide the bulk of Alaska's pink pack: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak. In Southeast, where 15 million humpies were taken in a single week, the catch had reached 43 million and is likely to exceed the 54 million forecast.

"The next two weeks are typically the peak, so if catches stay at that level, that's another 30 million pink salmon," Bruce said.

In Prince William Sound, pink returns were so strong fishermen were put on limits because of the lack of tender capacity. Still, they took 10 million fish in a matter of days and the total PWS catch was approaching 57 million, against a forecast of just more than 38 million.

Kodiak's pink catch had topped 9 million out of 17 million forecast, with steady catches coming in. Even the Alaska Peninsula was yielding larger catches than usual, topping 5 million pinks so far.

At a dock price of about 45 cents a pound, pinks will really boost the value of Alaska's total salmon fishery this summer.

"When you're talking about the volumes in these fisheries, that really drives up the value rapidly," Bruce said.

For the past couple of years, some salmon runs have peaked and waned early, as with Bristol Bay reds this summer. Bruce cautioned there is a chance that pinks could follow a similar trend.

"But if the catches ... remain high over the next week, we could end up close to 200 million pinks," he said. If so, that will break the record pink salmon catch of 161 million taken in 2005.

Halibut hate

Domino's Pizza is getting heat from Alaskans for a new national television ad called "Powered by Pizza."

The ad says: "At Domino's we take our job seriously because we know Americans order pizza when they are building, creating and innovating. Without pizza, school projects and music albums might go unfinished ... startups unstarted ... No one is coming up with a world-changing idea over halibut. No way."

Onscreen, an actor takes a mouthful of halibut with a plastic fork, and then spits it out with a look of disgust on his face.

Alaskans quickly let Domino's know of their displeasure. Sen. Mark Begich told Domino's it obviously had never sampled one of Alaska's iconic fish, and urged the company to stop being "a halibut hater."

Jeanne Devon of The Mudflats blog contacted Domino's and got a quick response from Tim McIntyre, VP of communications.

"In no way did we intend to disparage the hard-working men and women in the fishing industry. ... It was simply meant to be a bit of humor," he said, adding that Domino's was "sincerely sorry for any offense the ad caused."

Meanwhile, the ad continues to run nationwide.

Domino's is apparently unaware of the adage "fish is brain food." Studies in Europe and the U.S. have proven, among other things, that pregnant women who eat fish promote brain development in their babies. And elderly people who eat fish at least once a week are less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

I'm not aware of any studies showing that pizza delivers similar results.

A campaign urging Alaskans to contact Domino's on Twitter -- using the hashtag "Powered by Halibut" -- or on Domino's Facebook page is gaining steam.

Fish notes

• There will be even fewer sockeye salmon to meet strong market demand this summer. By now, British Columbia's Fraser River reds are usually filling orders as the Alaska catch tails off, but this year Fraser returns are dismal. The lack of reds will push prices even higher.

Alaska longliners have taken 61 percent of the nearly 22 million-pound halibut catch limit.

For sablefish, the catch tally was at 68 percent of a 28 million-pound quota.

• Southeast Alaska's Dungeness crab fishery ended Aug. 8, a week earlier than usual. That catch should top 2 million pounds and the Dungy fishery will reopen Oct. 1.

• The year's first king crab fishery is underway at Norton Sound, where 35 small-boat crabbers have a half-million-pound quota.

The golden king crab fishery out along the Aleutians starts Aug. 15. That harvest will top 6 million pounds.

• Pollock boats are back out in the Bering Sea. Trawlers also are targeting cod, and pot cod opens Sept. 1.

In the Gulf, pollock reopens on Aug. 25, mostly around Kodiak.

Cod in the Gulf opens for all gear (except jig) on Sept. 1.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state or found at Contact her at


Laine Welch