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Big year forecast for Alaska salmon, particularly pinks

Commercial salmon harvests are expected to shoot up 39 percent this summer, a welcome bounty for Alaska fishermen -- expecially those harvesting pink salmon.

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are forecasting an increase from 129 million fish in 2012 to 179 million fish this year -- largely due to a boom in pink salmon harvests. The total haul is expected to include 110,000 Chinook salmon in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, 34.3 million sockeye, 3.9 million silver, 117.8 million pink and 22.7 million chum salmon.

Pinks, pinks and more pinks

The projected pink harvest is a whopping 73 percent higher than the harvest of 68 million humpies in 2012. On the other hand, the projected sockeye and chum salmon harvests are expected to be flat.

For the Copper River district, the total run forecast of 2.24 million reds is close to the recent 10-year average total run of 2.28 million reds. If realized, this year's run would be the 11th largest since 1980, state biologists said.

The complete statewide salmon forecast can be found online here.

Meanwhile, there's good news on the economic front for all those fish, says Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist and interim director of the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research. Knapp told the Alaska House Fisheries Committee in February that there's reason for optimism about the future of wild Alaska salmon.

Salmon demand rising

The global demand for salmon is likely to continue growing, due to growing incomes, the health benefits of salmon and new product forms that appeal to a broader range of consumers, Knapp said. And the pool of consumers is growing, too.

Wild salmon are in limited supply and there is a potential for niche market differentiation, he said.

There are also potential limits to future growth of farmed salmon production, due to the continuing potential for disease problems and limits to fish oil and fish meal feed sources, he said.

Alaska's wild salmon face their own challenges, including resource uncertainty and the potential for farmed salmon supply growth to exceed demand growth, plus potential competition from other fish species, world economic uncertainty and political uncertainty, he said.

For the short term, the outlook for Alaska salmon markets is uncertain and will be affected by many factors that are difficult to predict, he said. These include the actual Alaska salmon harvests, other wild salmon harvests, including Russian pinks and Japanese chum; the exchange rate for the Japanese yen and the euro; farmed salmon market conditions, and factors affecting Alaska processor costs.

In general, as of February the market outlook looks relatively favorable for the rest of the year, he said, with sockeye harvest volumes likely to be lower, and canned salmon markets strong. Knapp's complete report to legislators is here.

Margaret Bauman is a reporter for The Cordova Times. Used with permission.

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