FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest keeps setting records; watching Walmart


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Alaska’s 2013 salmon season has yielded the largest catch ever, and the value of the fishery is also headed for the record books.

The statewide catch on Sept. 6 was nearing 265 million fish — the old record was 222 million in 2005. A bumper run of pink salmon is behind the big harvest — the mindboggling catch was approaching 213 million fish. The previous record was 161 million pinks, also in 2005.

Some boats are still out on the water, but the big pink catches have gone by, said Geron Bruce, assistant director for the state commercial fisheries division.

Things are pretty close to being wrapped up in Prince William Sound and also at the Alaska Peninsula, where a catch of nearly 8 million pinks ended a long string of disappointing seasons.   

“At Kodiak they are still plugging away, but it’s very low numbers. Enough to keep a few of the die hards but not big fishing anymore,” Bruce said.

Southeast will see one or two more pink openers, “where catches have dropped, but are still larger than in other areas.”

Total salmon catches at the Panhandle topped 100 million, another record.

“It’s really nice to see the whole Gulf of Alaska producing like this,” he added.

It will be a few more weeks before we will know how much the 2013 catch is worth to Alaska salmon fishermen. The preliminary ex-vessel values (at the docks) will be released in October, and Bruce believes the total will top the chart.

“I’m sure it will be a record. It’s just a question of how far into record territory we will be going,” Bruce said.

Alaska’s highest value salmon catch was more than $700 million in 1988, but that is considered a statistical outlier. Alaska salmon prices were stratospheric, with even pinks fetching nearly $1 per pound. The salmon market crashed the following year.

“That never happened before and it hasn’t since. I think this year is going to be right up there with 2011, which had a value of nearly $700 million. This season will approach or exceed that,” Bruce predicted.  

Walmart watch

John Sackton, editor of www.seafood.com, has been following progress between Alaska and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as they work to make sure Alaska salmon is available to customers.

He reported that 15 Walmart executives met with an Alaska delegation that included Stefanie Moreland, Gov. Sean Parnell’s fishery aide, State Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commercial Fisheries Director Jeff Regnart, Mike Cerne, executive director of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and by telephone with representatives of Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski.

Sackton highlighted three important points of the meeting.

First, Alaska is very important to Walmart, and the company is determined that its customers will have access to Alaska salmon for years to come.

Second, under no circumstances was Walmart committed to a single eco-label. A significant part of the meeting revolved around the ways in which Alaska managed its fisheries sustainably, and how the third-party RFM (Responsible Fisheries Management Certification) worked, and the chain of custody requirements, Sackton reported.

Third, Walmart said that next week they would respond with the next steps needed to move forward, and they were fully committed to resolving the issue so they can purchase Alaska salmon that meets their sustainability standards.

Sackton added that by all accounts, “a good step forward” was taken and the outcome looks “very positive.”

Weather alert

Marine weather forecasts are set to change Oct. 1 for the Western Gulf of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and Bristol Bay. The changes are intended to tighten up the wording, said James Nelson with the National Weather Service office in Anchorage.

“We want to better serve our customers and not have excessive wording per weather zone, so that people can read the forecasts more easily and not get confused, especially across the marine weather radio broadcasts,” Nelson told KMXT.   

Two changes will occur around Kodiak Island. The Barren Islands and Kamishak Bay Waters will become two zones: “Barren Islands East” and “West of the Barren Islands, including Kamishak Bay.” “Shuyak Island to Sitkinak” will change to “Marmot Bay to Sitkinak.”

Nelson said the Eastern and Central Aleutians zones will be split, with separate forecasts for north and south of the islands.

“The main reason we did that is due to wave height. With the chain of islands there are really stark differences between the Bering side and the Pacific side, ” Nelson said.

The Bristol Bay weather forecast zone will be smaller to better accommodate vessels operating near shore.

“We just went specifically with Bristol Bay. Before the zone was way out into the Bering Sea and into an area where it wasn’t transited by ship traffic all that often. So we tried to get more centric about it and make sure it was just handling the Bristol Bay area,” Nelson explained.

The new marine weather forecasts include eight new zones and several other name and number changes. Watch/listen for them starting Oct. 1.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact msfish@alaska.com for information.

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