Alaska News

Laine Welch: Salmon is king, but other fisheries are swimming along

Salmon takes center stage in Alaska every summer, but many more fisheries also are going on all across the state.

The world's biggest sockeye salmon run is expected to surge into Bristol Bay any day, where a catch of about 17 million reds is projected. Elsewhere, the annual summer troll fishery in Southeast Alaska kicks off on July first with a target of just over 166,000 Chinook salmon.

Lots of crab fisheries are underway each summer -- Dungeness fishing began on June 15 in Southeast where a harvest of 2.25 million pounds is expected. The region's golden king crab fishery will close on July 10, with a catch of about 234,000 pounds.

The 6-million-pound golden king crab fishery continues way out along the Aleutians; likewise, crab pots for a million pounds or so of Tanners are still being hauled back in the Bering Sea. Norton Sound's red king crab fishery started on June 26 with a harvest set at 382,000 pounds, down 23 percent.

Trawlers are targeting pollock and cod in the Bering Sea, and the Gulf of Alaska jig fleet continues to make a dent in that 7 million pound quota.

Halibut longliners had taken 53 percent of their 16 million pound catch limit, with just 7 million pounds to go. For sablefish, 62 percent of the nearly 24 million pound quota has been landed with 9 million pounds remaining. Both of those fisheries end in November.

A ling cod fishery opens in Prince William Sound on July 1 with a catch set at about 33,000 pounds. Alaska's statewide scallop fishery, which has a combined limit of 407,000 pounds of shucked meats, also opens July 1.

In other fish news

Simon Kinneen of Nome has been named to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. He replaces outgoing Eric Olson. Also reappointed is John Henderschedt for a Washington seat. Both terms are for three years.

United Fishermen of Alaska, the nation's largest commercial fishing trade group, has endorsed two congressional candidates.

"We have put our support behind Sen. Mark Begich for another term in the U.S. Senate, and we have also voted to endorse Don Young for another go-around at the U.S. House of Representatives," said UFA executive director Julianne Curry.

UFA President Jerry McCune also has thrown his hat in the ring as a Democratic contender for Alaska's state House, representing District 32

Maritime workers wanted

Alaska's coastal economies depend on the seafood industry, and the entire state relies on ships to get goods from one place to another. Getting more Alaskans into maritime trades is the goal of a new workforce development plan released by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It is the result of two years of collaboration by numerous industry sectors, five state agencies and university educators.

For the first time the plan breaks down maritime jobs into a unique, related workforce and identifies 23 different occupation types ranging from fishing to research to shipbuilding and repairs.

"One thing the plan really points out is how reliant our economy is on the maritime industry. Not only do we have a huge economic sector with seafood harvesting and processing -- but also everything in maritime and marine trades. And then all the scientific work that goes on to support it. It is a real network of economic activity," said Wanetta Ayers, director of business partnerships at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Right now, she said, there are not enough skilled workers to meet demand.

"One of the occupations identified in the plan is machinist," Ayers said. "There is increased automation and complexity with a lot of our seafood plants, and we need young people with those kinds of skills so circuit writers from the Lower 48 aren't being called to come up and keep our plants working. We need to look beyond the frontline jobs, which may make up the largest count in terms of workers, but there are good, well-paying jobs in maritime, and I want to see Alaskans working in those occupations.

"One of the main areas of focus is helping Alaskans identify what those good, career living wage opportunities are in the maritime industry, and there are lots of them," Ayers said. "Mostly it is a factor of identifying what the right pathways are to get into some of these long term legacy jobs in the maritime industry and will provide for a livelihood that can take you through your entire life."

She added: "I can tell you in working with this industry advisory committee, what's motivated them throughout this entire process is to really showcase what the opportunities are and make sure there are clear pathways for people to movie into those great jobs."

A new maritime workforce webpage is already online at the Department of Labor's Workforce Development site.

Chinook News is keeping Alaskans updated as the State seeks clues about why numbers of the king of all salmon are on the decline.

"Right now we are in the thick of our Chinook Salmon Research Initiative, which is a $30 million, five year effort, and we want to make sure that we share what we know and what we hope to learn with Alaskans and get the public fully engaged in the process," said Candice Bressler, communications coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

As part of the effort, salmon scientists are studying Chinook stocks from 12 main rivers from Southeast to the Yukon.

"For this first newspaper edition we wanted to introduce the major issues surrounding Chinook salmon in Alaska," Bressler added. "We wanted to give folks an overview of what we are doing to understand the stocks, but also what we are doing to sustainably manage and rebuild Chinook in Alaska."

The colorful Chinook News is loaded with much more than science.

"You've got articles about the role of research and the impact of bycatch, for example, written by some of our top scientists and they are very insightful. But we've also included an awesome article called 'A century of salmon' about the Chinook tradition written by Ken Marsh," she said.

Another article highlights how salmon find their way in the deep blue maze of ocean, and there is a fun section on Chinook fast facts.

"Did you know the largest sport caught Chinook was 97 pounds? What a whopper!" Bressler said.

Chinook News is available now at any ADF&G office and online.

Bressler said the public is encouraged to email the department directly with any questions or comments about Chinook.

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

Laine Welch | Fish Factor

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based journalist who writes a weekly column, Fish Factor, that appears in newspapers and websites around Alaska and nationally. Contact her at