2001 salmon catch is seventh largest in decade thanks to pinks

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
welchlanieLR.jpg A preliminary wrap-up of the 2001 salmon season shows the statewide harvest at just more than 172 million fish, making it the seventh largest catch since 1990. A strong pink run served to boost the catch, while the take of all other salmon species came in slightly below projections.

Before the season, state forecasters had predicted an all-species commercial catch of roughly 142 million fish, distributed as 419,000 chinook, or kings; 28.7 million sockeye, or reds; 4.78 million coho, or silvers; 92.7 million pinks, or humpies; and 15.3 million chum, or dog, salmon.

As of late September, the actual catch was estimated at 337,000 chinook, which was 20 percent below the forecast. The coho salmon harvest was just slightly below predictions at 4.3 million fish. The pink catch of 126 million was well above projections, thanks primarily to bumper runs in Southeast and Prince William Sound. The statewide chum harvest of 15 million missed the preseason projection by less than half a million fish, with Southeast and Sound harvesters also making up the brunt of that catch. For sockeyes, Alaska’s most valuable salmon species, the harvest came in at 9 percent below forecast at 26 million fish.

World markets are awash in salmon, causing prices for both wild and farmed salmon to continue a downward spiral. Most fingers point to Chile for flooding the market with farmed salmon and selling it below cost. The value of all species of Alaska’s salmon catch is estimated at $198 million, down more than $80 million from the previous year.

In fact, the sharp declines in the value of salmon catches and a reduction in crab landings have combined to reduce the dock-side value of Alaska’s 2001 fisheries to around $933 million, down from $1.05 billion last year. According to figures from the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute, crab fisheries are expected to be worth about $82 million, down from $133 million from last year. The value for groundfish -- cod, pollock, flatfish, rockfish and related species -- has increased slightly to roughly $400 million from $392 million in 2000.

The drop in the value of the catch means that ASMI’s budget for the current fiscal year will drop by about 21 percent. ASMI doesn’t receive a dime from the state to promote Alaska seafood to the U.S. market, although nearly 55 percent of our nation’s seafood production comes from Alaska. Funds for that daunting and desperately needed task comes from a 1 percent assessment on salmon catches paid by all harvesters, and other voluntary assessments on various fish species paid by Alaska processors.

Conversely, ASMI receives several million dollars each year from the federal government to market Alaska seafood in foreign countries. Seafood is Alaska’s top international export, representing 40 percent of all exports. Alaska’s seafood industry is also the state’s largest employer, comprising more than 16 percent of all basic sector employment and nearly half of all private sector jobs. That’s way ahead of oil and gas, mining, forest products and tourism.

Why care about fish prices?

There is a misconception that fishing income remains only in the coastal communities where the fish is landed. However, fully half of the 3 percent landing tax goes into the state’s general fund and is appropriated at the whim of the Alaska Legislature. That share in fiscal 2000 was just less than $20 million, and it means that school roofs in Fairbanks, for example, or roads and services in other Interior regions are likely funded in part by fish dollars.

Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Updated: 
12/09/2001 - 8:00pm