Alaska’s 2019 salmon season was worth $657.6 million to fishermen, a 10% increase from the 2018 fishery.
Sockeye salmon accounted for nearly 64% of the total value, topping $421 million, and 27% of the harvest at 55.2 million fish.
Those are the lead takeaways in a summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that reveals preliminary estimates of salmon harvests and values by region. The final values will be determined in 2020 after processors, buyers, and direct marketers submit their totals paid to fishermen.
Pink salmon were the second most valuable species, representing 20% of the total dockside value at $128.6 million and 62% of the harvest at just over 129 million fish.
Chum salmon accounted for 10% of the value at $63.8 million and 9% of the harvest at 18.5 million. Coho salmon contributed about 5% of the fishery value at $29.6 million and 2% of the harvest at 3.8 million fish.
The chinook salmon harvest of just over 272,000 was worth $14.4 million to fishermen, the third lowest value since limited entry began in 1975.
Salmon prices for 2019 took a dip for all but sockeyes, which averaged $1.45 per pound — an increase from $1.33. The average price for chinook was $4.48 per pound, down from $5.98 in 2018. Cohos at $1.15 dropped from $1.34; pink salmon at $0.30 declined from $0.45; and chums at $0.49 took a big dip from the $0.78 paid on average last year.
The price drops, especially for pinks and chums, likely stemmed from the huge Russian harvest that was expected to approach 1.8 billion pounds this year. That compares to a 2019 Alaska salmon catch of just over 872 million pounds.
Average salmon weights this year were 11.84 pounds for chinook, up from 11.59 pounds in 2018. Sockeye weight of 5.24 pounds was down slightly from 5.26 pounds. Coho salmon averaged 6.77 pounds, down from 7.42; pinks averaged 3.27 pounds, down from 3.76 and chum weight at 7.07 pounds declined from 8 pounds on average.
Southeast Alaska fishermen caught 32.2 million salmon valued at over $101.8 million. That compares to 21.2 million fish valued at $133.6 million in 2018.
Prince William Sound fishermen harvested 57.75 million salmon this valued at just under $115 million. Last year’s take was just over 29 million fish valued at nearly $95 million.
At Cook Inlet, fishermen caught more than 4.3 million salmon valued at nearly $23 million. That’s a slight improvement over the nearly 3.3 million fish valued at $18 million in 2018.
Bristol Bay fishermen had a total salmon catch of nearly 44.5 million salmon, of which almost 43 million were sockeyes. The value of over $306.5 million was a record and compares to 43.5 million fish worth $281 at the docks in 2018.
Kodiak’s salmon fishery produced 35.7 million fish valued at $47 million. That compares to fewer than 9 million salmon worth $27.8 million last year.
At Chignik, fishermen fared far better with a catch of 3.5 million salmon valued at $8 million. Last year harvesters took just over 1,000 salmon (only 128 sockeyes!) worth less than $4,000.
At the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands region, a bumper catch of nearly 21 million pinks in the southern district pushed the total salmon catch to nearly 27 million salmon valued at over $49 million. Last year fishermen there took just over 6 million salmon worth more than $29 million.
On the Yukon, fishermen took 561,644 fish, mostly chums, for a total fishery value topping $2.5 million. That compares to over 1 million salmon valued at nearly $4.7 million in 2018.
Norton Sound harvesters landed 381,124 salmon worth just over $2 million at the docks. That compares to 540,796 salmon valued at $4 million last year.
At Kotzebue, fishermen caught 493,340 salmon, nearly all chums, valued at over $1.5 million. That’s down from 695,000 fish last year, worth nearly $2.3 million at the docks.
Once again, there was no salmon fishing opportunity for fishermen at the Kuskokwim. The region’s CDQ groups abruptly closed its plant at Platinum a few years ago. No buyer means no commercial salmon fishing.
Kodiak gets some crab
It’s a go for Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery, albeit a small one — but better catches aren’t far off.
The mid-January fishery will have a combined 400,000-pound catch limit in two areas, the minimum to open a fishery. At average weights of 2.2 pounds, the fishery should produce 182,000 crabs. That’s down from a harvest of 615,000 pounds last season.
Crabbers are tapping on the tail end of a big Tanner year class from 2013, said Natura Richardson, assistant area manager for the westward region at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office at Kodiak.
“The east side’s going to have a 300,000-pound harvest and the southeast is going to have 100,000 pounds. And particularly on the east side, this definitely is fishing on the same crab that they’ve been targeting for the last two seasons,” she said. “We first saw this big cohort from 2013 in the survey, and that’s what we fished on in 2018 and 2019. And 2020 is probably going to be the last hit on this specific cohort.
Despite the low catch, she said managers don’t expect the fishery to go fast.
“We don’t have any conservation concerns because there are so many mature crabs in the water that we still feel that we are leaving a good standing stock to reproduce,” she said. (Only mature male crabs can be retained for sale.) “But because of that people are going to be seeing a lot of non-target crab and not as many legal crabs, so it is probably not going to be really hot and heavy with high catches per pot. I think that it’s going to be a little bit more work to get to the legal males.”
Looking ahead, the future bodes well for westward region Tanners. Surveys have been tracking the biggest pulse of crab they’ve ever seen for several years, and the crabs seem to be growing faster than usual. It can take more than five years for the crab to grow to harvestable size.
“The next pulse in the water has definitely retained,” Richardson said. “We saw them in the survey last year and again this year. So we have a lot of hope that they will continue to track through the population. They have survived at a higher rate relative to the previous 2013 pulse, so that definitely looks promising for future fisheries.”
The big pulse of crab should enter the fishery within a couple of years. Richardson agreed that the 80% cod crash in the Gulf last year might be a reason that the recruits are showing better survival, as cod eat lots of small crab.
Fisheries at Chignik and the South Peninsula will remain closed although the outlook for those regions appears hopeful.
Last season 82 crabbers dropped pots for Tanners at Kodiak. The statewide average price was $3.94 per pound.
By the way: Tanner crab is spelled with a capital T because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross, which explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s.