FISH FACTOR: Pinks peaking, but chum runs mostly dismal around state
Alaska’s salmon landings have passed the season’s midpoint and by Aug. 7 the statewide catch had topped 116 million fish. State managers are calling for a projected total 2021 harvest of 190 million salmon, a 61 percent increase versus 2020.
Most of the salmon being caught now are pinks with Prince William Sound topping 35 million humpies, well better than the projection of 25 million.
Pink salmon catches at Kodiak remained sluggish at just more than 3 million so far out of a forecast calling for more than 22 million.
Southeast was seeing a slight uptick with pink catches nearing 14 million out of a projected 28 million.
The pink salmon harvest usually peaks in mid-August and the statewide catch was more than 57 million out of a projected 124 million humpies for the season.
For chum salmon the harvest remains bleak with Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula the only regions tracking well for catches. The statewide catch had barely topped 6 million out of a projected 15.3 million fish.
The coho peak is typically in early September and harvests are climbing steadily, but at a pace less than half the five-year average. Just less than 700,000 cohos had crossed the Alaska docks, or about 14 percent of the projected catch of 3.8 million silver salmon.
Alaska sockeye salmon catches of nearly 52 million so far have blown past the forecasted 46.6 million. More than 40 million are from Bristol Bay and more than 6 million from the Alaska Peninsula.
The statewide chinook harvest had reached 173,000, or 64 percent of an expected 269,000 kings.
No Alaska region has been hit harder by dismal salmon returns this summer than communities on the Yukon River, where the summer chum run of just 153,000 is the lowest on record.
“This is really quite scary for everyone. These runs are low enough that no one on the river is subsistence fishing, and so it’s very dismal. Everybody in the communities on the full river drainage, are feeling the hardship,” Serena Fitka, director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, told KYUK in Bethel.
Nearly 10,000 pounds of chum and king salmon have been donated by Bristol Bay fishermen and processors with logistical assists by SeaShare and Kwik’pak Fisheries in Emmonak to send salmon to 11 villages.
Kwik’pak, typically a top employer each summer, has been able to put only a handful of people to work for a few days helping with the distribution said General Manager Jack Schultheis.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy also directed an additional $75,000 to purchase more salmon from Alaska processors for donations. The Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Association of Village Council Presidents are helping with distribution.
More fish action
As always, lots of other fisheries are going on across Alaska besides salmon.
At Southeast, about 160 crabbers will wrap up a two-month Dungeness crab fishery on Aug. 15. State managers expect the catch to top 2.25 million pounds with another opener set for Oct. 1.
A sablefish fishery opens in Northern districts on Aug. 15 for 73 shareholders with a catch of 1.13 million pounds.
The Panhandle’s spot shrimp fishery remains open in some regions through Aug. 30 with a 400,000-pound harvest limit.
At Prince William Sound, a sablefish fishery is ongoing through Aug. 30 with a 208,000-pound catch limit. Likewise, a lingcod fishery continues through year’s end with a 32,600-pound harvest.
It’s been slow going for Prince William Sound’s shrimp fishery that opened in April and has been extended to Sept. 15. That catch limit is 70,000 pounds.
Pot hauls for Kodiak’s Dungeness crab fishery were nearing 962,000 pounds by a fleet of 19 boats.
Crabbers are dropping pots for nearly 6 million pounds of golden king crab along the Aleutian Islands.
Alaska’s halibut landings are slightly ahead of last year at this time with nearly 9.9 million pounds crossing the docks by Aug. 7. That’s 53 percent of the roughly 19 million-pound catch limit.
Halibut prices usually tank during the summer but that’s not the case this year and fishermen are fetching near or more than $6 per pound at most ports. Payouts at Homer were $7.25, $7.65 and $7.85 depending on halibut size, with Seward buyers paying a nickel less.
Sablefish catches had topped 19 million pounds, or 44 percent, of the 43.4 million-pound quota. Homer also was paying the most for black cod with prices ranging from $1.10 for under two pounders to $6.25 for 7-ups with Sitka not far behind, according to the Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.
Fishing for scallops continued in regions from Yakutat to the Bering Sea where 345,000 pounds of shucked meats (the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed) could be harvested this season.
Fishing continued for cod, flatfish, pollock and more in the Bering Sea. Pollock fishing will reopen for Gulf of Alaska trawlers on Sept. 1.
Mariculture means money
Ninety new founding members responded to the call to help shape the new Alaska Mariculture Alliance, a private non-profit successor to a five-year task force formed in 2016 by former Gov. Bill Walker. Their goal is to create a sustainable industry for growing shellfish and seaweeds to benefit Alaska’s economy and communities.
The group represents a diverse range of experienced growers to newcomers, said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which administrated the task force and is doing the same for the AMA.
It also includes reps from Alaska Native corporations, salmon hatcheries, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the Aleutian Pribilofs Community Development Association.
Along with boosting shellfish and seaweed farming, a priority will be getting the Alaska Legislature to pass a bill to allow for more large-scale shellfish enhancement that models the state’s successful salmon hatchery programs.
“There’s been some efforts looking at restoring and enhancing king crab, geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and razor clams but they’re mostly at an experimental level. And they’re not allowed to do larger scale projects until a regulatory framework is put into place,” Decker explained. “We’re very close to getting the bill passed and we’re hoping that it will be one of the first bills taken back up and moved along over the finish line in the next session. Sen. (Gary) Stevens of Kodiak and Rep. (Dan) Ortiz of Ketchikan have been very helpful with that.”
Policy makers are starting to talk more about the positive potential for Alaska mariculture, Decker said, and she believes “we have turned a corner” as proven by several new state and federal hires.
NOAA Fisheries has hired Alicia Bishop as its first ever Aquaculture Coordinator for the Alaska Region along with Jordan Hollarsmith as research lead, both based in Juneau.
And the University of Alaska/Fairbanks has hired seaweed research specialist Schery Amanzor as a professor at its College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences to provide even more expertise.
The state also has added two positions to the Department of Natural Resources to review new mariculture lease applications to reduce the backlog.
“They have now gone from an average review process of 572 days down to 274 days,” Decker said.
There are 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska, plus 35 pending new applications that add up to over 1631.32 underwater acres. Only 28 growers are making sales so far.
The ultimate goal of the AMA is to facilitate a $100 million mariculture industry by 2038 and many believe that’s very conservative due to increasing demand, especially for seaweeds.
The North American market for commercial seaweed will exceed $9.5 billion by 2026 due to rising commercial seaweed consumption and demands in the pharmaceutical industry, while global revenue is projected to top $85 billion, predicts Global Market Insights Inc.
Check out the new Alaska Mariculture Map launched in partnership with the Alaska Ocean Observing System, Axiom Data Science, APICDA Corp., The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Alaska Sea Grant and The Nature Conservancy/Alaska.
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is seeking members for its advisory committees to help develop global strategies for the Alaska seafood brand. Committees include Salmon, Halibut-Sablefish, Whitefish, and Shellfish, International Marketing, Domestic Marketing, Communications, Customer Advisory Panel and Seafood Technical. Deadline to apply is Sept. 24. Questions? Contact [email protected]/
Aug. 13 is the deadline to nominate small- and medium-sized seafood businesses to help shape a new National Seafood Council. Six to 8 seafood companies whose annual revenues are less than $20 million will be selected for cash scholarships based on their incomes. Apply at seafoodnutrition.org/
The call is still out for candidates for the state Board of Fisheries. The vacancy stems from the Alaska Legislature’s rejection on May 13 of Dunleavy’s appointment of Abe Williams, a regional affairs director for the Pebble Mine.
According to Alaska statutes, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days. Deputy Director of Communications Jeff Turner wrote in an email that, “The Governor is taking additional time to receive input from all stakeholders before making a selection” and that “he has committed to filling the seat before the next Board of Fish meeting in October.”