Business/Economy

High salmon prices and huge catch made for a ‘tremendous’ fishing season, state says

Alaska's commercial salmon fisheries saw a boom this season.

Preliminary 2017 harvest statistics from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show the "ex-vessel" value — what's paid to fishermen by processors — for all species was about $679 million, nearly 67 percent higher than last year's $407 million.

Most commercial fisheries have ended for the year.

This season was the third-most valuable since 1975, and the harvest was also the third-largest since then, said Andy Wink, a seafood economist with Anchorage research and consulting firm McDowell Group. Fishermen caught about 225 million salmon this year, according to the state.

[Bristol Bay red salmon run smashes records]

The scale of the turnaround was remarkable, Wink said.

"That's a huge amount of money that's going to fishermen and their families," he said. "That's the big takeaway. Prices are up and volumes are up, and that's great because usually you get one or the other."

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The Department of Fish and Game called the 2017 season a "banner year" in a statement this week.

"Tremendous harvests occurred across Alaska — from Kotzebue to Southeast, highlighted by an all-time record statewide chum salmon harvest," Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the state Division of Commercial Fisheries, said in the statement.

[Chum salmon returned this year to set catch records statewide]

While the harvest volume was big, Wink said, this season's spike in value was mostly driven by higher prices. There are a lot of factors behind that, including a U.S. dollar that's stronger than it was a few years ago but weaker than last year, the industry diversifying its products and markets, and marketing efforts to help wild Alaska salmon compete in the marketplace with farmed fish and other proteins.

"Consumers are becoming more aware of where their food comes from," said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. "They also think of the environment their fish comes from and how their fish comes to the plate. Alaska meets all those standards in spades. It fits the consumers' preference."

Alaska's salmon industry also felt pain in recent years from a Russian embargo on U.S. seafood — Russia had been a big market for pink salmon roe. More demand for Alaska salmon in Asia, specifically China, has helped the sector rebound.

"It took a couple years for the industry to develop new markets to be able to spread that displaced value elsewhere," Woodrow said. "They are adapting."

Sockeye salmon was the most valuable species again this year, accounting for nearly half the total value of salmon caught, according to the Department of Fish and Game.

The final value of this year's harvest won't be known until next year.

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.

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