Alaska’s salmon harvest has topped 170 million fish and it is pretty clear by now that disappointing pink catches in prime producing regions will pull the season up short of the projected 203 million salmon.
Southeast is the pink salmon winner with catches topping 61 million humpies so far, blowing past projections of 55 million. In fact, combined good salmon returns, hefty pink weights and strong prices have pushed the value of the Southeast seine fishery alone to $100 million.
The pink fishery was topsy-turvy with the bulk of the catch coming from northern districts. Pink salmon prices were averaging 42 cents, up from 30 cents last summer.
Elsewhere, pink salmon catches were lackluster – at Prince William Sound they were nearing 30 million, 8 million shy of projections. At Kodiak, the pink season has just been strange, said biologist James Jackson at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak.
“It’s been one of those years that really makes you scratch your head and wonder what happened,” he told KMXT. “We either had record or well above average pink salmon returns to Alitak, the east side of Kodiak and even around town, and then had record low returns to the west side, Afognak, and at the hatchery.”
Jackson said Kodiak fishermen, “will be lucky,” to get 17 million pinks, a shortfall of 13 million fish.
When it’s all over, Alaska’s 2011 salmon harvest will be comparable to last year’s catch of 168 million fish — but the value could top its ex-vessel value of $534 million.
Speaking of values …
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute pegs the value of Alaska’s total commercial seafood harvest in 2010 at $1.7 billion, a 22 percent increase over the 2009 harvest of $1.4 billion.
Alaska salmon will face competition in world markets from Russia, where a record harvest could reach 555,000 tons of mostly pinks and chums (more than 1 billion pounds). Looking ahead, Intrafish reports that global salmon production could rise by 15 percent in 2012, largely driven by a 60 percent growth in farmed salmon output from Chile. World production of Atlantic salmon will approach 1.8 million tons next year, more than twice the growth from the past year.
Reward for research gear
Research equipment that provides ocean data alongside with halibut stock assessments is sitting on the ocean floor and scientists hope to get it back.
Called water column profilers, they were deployed two years ago by fish scientists, thanks to a half-million dollar grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. A profiler was dropped at each of nearly 1,280 survey stations between Oregon and the Bering Sea and along the Aleutian Islands.
“It goes down through the water column and measures salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll content. So it gives us a fairly good snapshot of the whole coast,” said IPHC director Bruce Leaman. “It is a very important data set and we are sharing it with many other users.”
Most of the profilers have been retrieved, but one was lost in 2009 off the east side of Kodiak Island; another disappeared this summer on the south side of Adak. The 60-pound profilers are housed in a steel cage and could be snagged on the bottom. Leaman said they might be detected with depth sounders.
“Particularly the one off Kodiak Island,” Leaman told KDLG. “It doesn’t have floats on top, but it’s sitting on hard bottom and you would get a little bit of a bump. The one that is off Adak, you can actually see the floats on your echo sounder if you’re going by.”
The IPHC is offering a $1,500 reward for each lost profiler.
“We hope that is incentive enough so people will actually go looking for them. It’s a small thing in a large area, but we have some fairly precise location information,” Leaman said. “We would dearly love to get them back because they have important data, plus they are reusable and are very durable pieces of equipment.”
Concerned Alaskans are telling the Parnell Administration to stick to its own rules. Cook Inletkeeper and Trustees for Alaska have fired off letters to the governor and the federal Office of Surface Mining, or OSM, questioning why the state Department of Natural Resources is dragging its feet on its decision-making.
At issue is a January 2010 petition that asks DNR to designate lands within the Chuitna River watershed as unsuitable for large-scale surface coal mining. The proposed mine would be the first to mine completely through 11 miles of a wild salmon stream. After numerous delays, DNR promised a decision by June 3, 2011, 45 days after the statutory deadline. There still was no decision by Sept. 2.
In its Aug. 29 letter to OSM, Trustees for Alaska wrote: “DNR failed to offer any subsequent time-frame for the issuance of a final decision or explanation to Petitioners as to the significantly extended delay. … DNR has violated the statutory mandate that the ULP (unsuitable lands petition) be decided within 60 days.”
The petition is close to coming out, “with just a few details to finalize,” said Russell Kirkham, DNR’s coal regulatory program manager. “Then it has to go before DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan for a full review,” Kirkham told the Homer Tribune. “It can’t be discussed until the merit review process and the decision document are finished.”
Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson said if there is no response, the next level is to seek legal recourse for unmet deadlines, amounting to a violation of laws on behalf of the State of Alaska.