Laine Welch: Salmon season could be most valuable in state's history

Laine Welch

As expected, Alaska's 2013 salmon catch is one for the record books. Early tallies by state fishery managers show that fishermen caught 272 million salmon this summer, smashing the previous record of 221 million in 2005. The fishery was powered by a whopping catch of 219 million pinks.

The preliminary harvest value of $691 million ranks second to the $724 million in 1988, considered an "outlier" season by salmon managers. They also predict that once all post-season bonuses and price adjustments are set by salmon processors, the 2013 season could be the most valuable harvest in Alaska history.

Some highlights: For the second year running, Southeast was the region with the highest salmon volumes and overall value. Fishermen caught more than 100 million salmon for the first time ever. The value was nearly $220 million at the docks.

Prince William Sound fishermen ranked second with a catch of 98 million salmon, worth $162 million. Both Southeast and the Sound had their largest-ever pink salmon harvests at just more than 91 million and 89.2 million, respectively.

Kodiak was third with nearly 32 million fish, and fourth for value at $62 million.

Bristol Bay is still home to Alaska's most valuable salmon fishery, with Bay sockeyes totaling $138 million at the docks.

Here are the average 2013 statewide salmon prices (with comparisons to last year):

Kings: $5.31 ($4.01)

Sockeyes: $1.60 ($1.31)

Silvers: $1.08 ($1.27)

Pinks: 40 cents (48 cents)

Chums 52 cents (76 cents)


The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is supposed to open Tuesday but the government shutdown means no one is on the job to issue the permits the fleet needs to go fishing.

"It's a situation where you not only have harm to the crab fishermen but also to the processors in the area. Think of the economic impact because you don't have somebody in an agency ... to pick up the phone, and sign the piece of paper," fumed Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a phone call from her Washington, D.C., office.

The delay could cause crabbers to miss critical sales deadlines to Japanese buyers.

"Even if they come on-line on Friday, we are going to be cutting it close to getting everything done by the November beginning of the season," said Jake Jacobsen of the Inter-cooperative Exchange, which represents crabbers who hold more than 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab shares. "If it drags on another few days, we'll start chewing our fingernails down to nothing."

Jacobsen said the delay could cost the fleet $5 million or more.

What is most galling is that the harvesters and processors have already covered the costs for management and enforcement of the Bering Sea crab fisheries.

"We paid a 3 percent user fee, split with the processors, to cover all of this," said Mike Woodley, skipper of the fishing vessel Atlantico.

That is the message Murkowski and Rep. Don Young sent to the secretary of Commerce in a letter last week.

"We reminded her that the Bering Sea crab fisheries are funded by a tax on the users' landings, not by the government. It's a situation where it pays for itself, so you don't need to wait around for a budget," Murkowski said. The crab user fees added up to $262 million last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jacobsen offered this solution: "We would be happy to pay (National Marine Fisheries Service) employees 10 times what they would normally make to come in and work for a few days and issue the IFQs."


Murkowski acknowledged that D.C. is a tough place to be in these days of budget shutdowns and showdowns.

"A PPP poll showed we as a Congress have a lower approval rating than dog poop, toenail fungus, cockroaches and the IRS," she said. "We do have a higher rating than Putin and hemorrhoids, and we beat out the Ebola virus and also Charles Manson by a long shot. We also have higher ratings than Honey Boo Boo but lower ratings than potholes."


Enrollment began this month for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Fishermen, who are usually regarded as self-employed or independent contractors, have long fallen through health care cracks because of the high costs and high risks associated with their work. Fishing organizations and support businesses are likely eligible for tax credits under the act, said Mark Vinsel, executive administrator for United Fishermen of Alaska.

"I think some of our own UFA member groups are likely to be eligible for tax credits even as nonprofits, as well as other small industry-related businesses, like boat repair, marine services and many others," he said.

Find more information about the Affordable Care Act at the United Fishermen of Alaska website or

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