Alaska's 2013 salmon season has yielded the largest catch ever, and the value of the fishery is also headed for the record books.
The statewide catch on Friday was nearing 265 million fish; the old record was 222 million in 2005. A bumper run of pink salmon is behind the big harvest; the mind-boggling humpy return was approaching 213 million fish. The previous record was 161 million pinks, also in 2005.
Some boats are still out on the water but the big pink catches have gone by, said Geron Bruce, assistant director for the state commercial fisheries division.
Things are pretty close to being wrapped up in Prince William Sound and on the Alaska Peninsula, where a catch of nearly 8 million pinks ended a long string of disappointing seasons.
"At Kodiak they are still plugging away but it's very low numbers. Enough to keep a few of the diehards but not big fishing anymore," Bruce said. Southeast will see one or two more pink openers, "where catches have dropped but are still larger than in other areas."
Total salmon catches on the Panhandle topped 100 million, another record.
"It's really nice to see the whole Gulf of Alaska producing like this," he added.
It will be a few more weeks before we know how much the 2013 catch is worth to Alaska salmon fishermen. The preliminary ex-vessel values (at the docks) will be released in October. Bruce said he believes the total will top the chart.
"I'm sure it will be a record. It's just a question of how far into record territory we will be going," he said.
Alaska's highest value salmon catch was more than $700 million in 1988, but that is considered a statistical outlier. Alaska salmon prices were stratospheric, with even pinks fetching nearly $1 a pound. The salmon market crashed the next year.
"That never happened before and it hasn't since. I think this year is going to be right up there with 2011, which had a value of nearly $700 million. This season will approach or exceed that," Bruce predicted.
John Sackton, editor of seafood.com, has been following discussions between Alaska and Walmart about making Alaska salmon available to the giant retailer's customers.
He reported that 15 Walmart executives met with an Alaska delegation that included Stefanie Moreland, Gov. Parnell's fishery aide; state Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell; ADF&G's commercial fisheries director Jeff Regnart; Mike Cerne, executive director of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute; and by telephone with representatives of Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski.
Sackton highlighted three points of the meeting:
Alaska is important to Walmart, and the company wants to offer its customers Alaska salmon for years to come.
Walmart is not committed to a single sustainability label. A significant part of the meeting revolved around the ways in which Alaska managed its fisheries and how the third-party (Responsible Fisheries Management Certification) program worked, Sackton reported.
And Walmart said that it would respond next week with next steps, and the companies is fully committed to resolving the issue so it can purchase Alaska salmon that meets its sustainability standards.
Marine weather forecasts are set to change Oct. 1 for the Western Gulf of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and Bristol Bay, said James Nelson with the National Weather Service office in Anchorage.
Two changes will occur around Kodiak Island. The "Barren Islands and Kamishak Bay Waters" will become two zones: "Barren Islands East" and "West of the Barren Islands, including Kamishak Bay." "Shuyak Island to Sitkinak" will change to "Marmot Bay to Sitkinak."
Nelson said the Eastern and Central Aleutian zones will be split, with separate forecasts for north and south of the islands.
"The main reason we did that is due to wave height, with the chain of islands there are really stark differences between the Bering side and the Pacific side," Nelson said.
The Bristol Bay weather forecast zone will be smaller.
"We just went specifically with Bristol Bay. Before the zone was way out into the Bering Sea and into an area where it wasn't transited by ship traffic all that often. So we tried to get more centric about it," Nelson said.
Correction from last week's Fish Factor: According to the Economic Impacts of the Alaska Seafood Industry report, the mining industry contributes $565 million in annual total Alaska labor income value; the seafood industry provides $2.1 billion in total labor income value.