This may have been one of the worst seasons in history for Alaska salmon fishermen and processors.Salmon farmers, mainly in Chile, are producing at full throttle and flooding markets in the United States, Asia and Europe. Farmed salmon prices are plummeting, dragging down prices for wild salmon as well."They’ve finally glutted the salmon market," said Gunnar Knapp, a University of Alaska fisheries economist who closely follows salmon.Most of the blame is focused on Chile, where salmon farmers have increased production of farmed coho salmon by an estimated 40 percent in the last year. "They’re now suffering the consequences of declining prices. Farmed salmon prices have crashed in Japan, the U.S. and Europe," Knapp said.If there’s any good news out there for salmon, it’s that the overall productivity of the Alaska fishery appears stable, except in certain regions."We’re likely to see an overall harvest around 170 million salmon this year, up from 140 million last year," said Garon Bruce, deputy director of the state Division of Commercial Fisheries."Much of this year’s harvest is pink salmon, but overall we’re right on the five-year average," he said.One bright spot in fisheries overall is in halibut, where fishermen are doing well, Bruce said. The longer halibut fishing season has allowed for development of new, fresh halibut markets, and prices have been strong, Bruce said.The consequences of the salmon glut for Alaska fishermen are severe. Many Chilean salmon farmers are reported to be selling at below cost, Knapp said."No one expected the spike in production in Chile earlier this year," said Laura Fleming, of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. "It’s having a profound effect on our industry.""A gillnet coho fishermen in Cordova two years ago was able to get $1.20 per pound for coho salmon he caught," Fleming said. "Last year, he received 60 cents per pound. This summer he got 30 cents.""Imagine your own family income being cut by half one year and then by two-thirds in the following year," she said.Alaskans who fish for sockeye salmon also felt the impact of farmed salmon this summer when processors in Western Alaska paid prices of 40 cents per pound for sockeye in Bristol Bay and 55 cents per pound in Kodiak. Those are well below last year’s prices and about half what was paid two years ago.Knapp said a significant indicator is that 15 percent of Bristol Bay sockeye fishermen with permits failed to turn up this year.Japan is flooded with farmed Chilean coho salmon, which has been priced well below Alaska sockeye salmon for some time.Alaska sockeye prices in Japan have dropped as farmed salmon has taken over the market, but the volume now purchased by Japanese importers is also so low that Alaska sockeye has become a kind of specialty item, Knapp said. Alaska used to supply the bulk of Japan’s imported salmon.Japan’s salmon farmers are also feeling the heat. Fleming said a delegation of Japanese salmon farmers went to Chile in September to ask Chile to cut back exports of farmed salmon to Japan.Meanwhile, U.S. prices for farmed Atlantic salmon, from Chile and Norway, have dropped from $2.20 per pound to as low as $1 per pound in the last two months, Knapp said.This follows a more gradual decline of farmed Atlantic salmon prices as the industry has expanded, from about $3 per pound to $2 per pound over seven years.The price drop undercuts efforts to sell frozen Alaska sockeye and coho salmon in domestic markets, Knapp said. "It’s really a rough year for anyone trying to sell Alaska frozen salmon in those markets," he said.Chris McDowell, who monitors markets for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said that while the big-money sockeye salmon industry is reeling, pink salmon fishermen are more or less holding their own.The pink salmon harvest was large, particularly in Southeast Alaska, and a $16 million purchase of canned pink salmon by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture helped hold prices steady, McDowell said.Pink salmon prices paid to fishermen remained in the range paid last year, he said. It’s not a highly profitable fishery such as sockeye fishing has been in the past, but experienced and well equipped pink salmon fishermen can still make money if they catch enough volume, McDowell said.Some of those troll fishing for coho salmon later in the season also made out reasonably well, he said. While prices paid to gillnet fishermen for cohos are down because of farmed salmon, troll fishermen, who mainly serve a different, higher-end market, were paid prices that were generally on par with last year, McDowell said.In the bigger picture, Alaska salmon have now become a niche player in the world market, ASMI’s Fleming said. While this presents opportunities, Alaska’s salmon industry has to get its act together, she said."Even if the Chileans cut their production in half, we still have to improve our quality and respond better to market demand. We’re a niche supplier, but there are still opportunities; and it’s up to us to respond to them."McDowell said an example for the industry is that of troll salmon fishermen in Southeast Alaska who have carved out a good niche market in Europe, where wild-caught Alaska salmon is gaining distinction.The long-established Seafood Producers Cooperative in Sitka should be given a lot of credit for developing this new market, he said.Kate Troll, a fisheries consultant in Juneau who has done work on salmon marketing, said the local cooperative efforts between processors and fishermen in Cordova in selling Copper River sockeyes to high-end markets, and the "Arctic Keta" effort to sell chum salmon from the Kuskokwim, offer other examples of what can work.An important part of their success are the quality standards processors and fishermen have agreed on, and third-party verification that the standards are being met, which is important for buyers. So far, the major salmon processors have been unwilling to invest in developing uniform quality standards for the industry and in obtaining third-party inspection and verification, she said.