Laine Welch: Hatchery-reared salmon set record

Laine Welch

Alaska's salmon catch of 273 million salmon set a record last year -- and so did the number of salmon returning to state hatcheries.

The 2013 Fisheries Enhancement Report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows that a return of 112 million hatchery-reared salmon contributed 36 percent to the state's total salmon harvest.

The breakdown by species was: 63 percent of the chum catch, 38 percent of pinks, 23 percent of kings, 22 percent of cohos and 5 percent of sockeyes credited to hatchery returns.

Unlike farmed fish, which are crammed into nets or pens until they're ready for market, Alaska salmon begin their lives in one of 35 state and/or privately run hatcheries, from which they are released as fingerlings to the sea.

Prince William Sound has the greatest degree of hatchery production: last year 80 percent of the Sound's catch was hatchery produced, including 88 percent of chums, 80 percent of pinks and 45 percent of sockeyes.

The hatchery catch was worth $113 million to Sound salmon fishermen, about 68 percent of the total catch value.

Kodiak outpaced Southeast for hatchery catches last year. Fish returns to the island's two hatcheries accounted for 35 percent of Kodiak's total salmon catch, nearly triple that of 2012.

The value of $16 million was 26 percent of total "ex-vessel value," an increase of $10 million. The hatchery catch breakdown was: 12 percent chums, 20 percent cohos, 15 percent sockeyes and 38 percent pinks.

In Southeast, hatcheries contributed 10 percent of the total salmon catch last year, which was worth about $52 million, or 21 percent of the dockside value. The breakdown was: 81 percent of chums, 32 percent of kings, 26 percent of cohos, 14 percent of sockeyes and 2 percent of pinks. Nearly 761,000 hatchery-reared cohos returned to Southeast, the largest number ever.

In Cook Inlet, just 1 percent of both the sockeye and pink harvests were hatchery produced, a value of less than $500,000.

This year, nearly 52 million hatchery-produced fish are expected to return to Alaska.

Crab crunch

Lots of Tanner crab -- popular in buffets and casual-dining restaurants throughout the country -- is coming out of Alaska this winter. Southeast wrapped up its best fishery in a decade with 80 crabbers hauling up 1.25 million pounds in 11 days. At an average fishermen's price of $2.70 a pound, the Tanner fishery is worth more than $3 million to the region.

The snow crab coming out of the Bering Sea, at one to two pounds, is a smaller cousin in the Tanner family, about half the size of the Southeast crab.

The Bering Sea snow crab catch of 54 million pounds could be hauled up in a couple of weeks. The base price for snow crab, at $2.15 a pound, is similar to last year, worth nearly $120 million to the 46 boats in the fishery.

Alaska snow crab will soon face a bigger competitor than archrival Canada, which already produces double the Bering Sea volume. Now all signs are pointing to a huge, untapped snow crab supply in the Barents Sea. The Norway Marine Institute projects yearly snow crab catches of 25,000 metric tons -- 75,000 metric tons in the next 10 years, and possibly higher. That's 55 million to 165 million pounds. reports that crabbing is under way and Norway and Russia are devising a management plan for the new snow crab fishery.

Trident Seafoods

Trident is a uniquely American story, the tale of one hometown boy making good, claims John Van Amerongen, author of "Catching a Deckload of Dreams." It's the story of Chuck Bundrant, the founder and CEO of Trident Seafoods.

"Think of a guy who hops into a '53 station wagon in the middle of winter in Tennessee and stops by to say goodbye to family in Indiana and heads west," Van Amerongen said in a phone interview.

"That was in 1961 and I like to say he didn't know the pointy end from the square end of a fish or a fishing boat. He had just heard that you could make enough money fishing in Alaska to pay your way through college which was very important to him at the time."

Trident is now the largest source-to-table seafood company in North America. Pretty good for a guy who got his start in fish holds at Adak.

"Literally that is where he got his start. So if you look at a beginning like that and see where he wound up, it's a pretty amazing journey. So there was a great story there," Van Amerongen said.

The Bundrant family asked John Van Am, as he is known in the industry, to write Chuck's story. Van Am was the voice behind the Alaska Fisherman's Journal for more than two decades. His goal with the book, he said, was to give readers a seat at the table.

Find "Catching a Deckload of Dreams" at the Trident Seafood website.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at


Laine welch