ANCHORAGE — Alaska commercial fishermen lost an estimated $16.8 million in direct revenue tied to fishing closures because of recent poor king salmon returns, according to new figures prepared by state officials.
Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell enclosed the estimate of losses by commercial fishery permit holders in a letter to the Alaska congressional delegation. An estimate in September put the suspected loss at more than $10 million.
The figures, Bell said, did not reflect the total financial loss for Alaskans. Crew members missed the opportunity to fish and earn wages. Support businesses could not supply commercial fishermen.
“Processors and their workforces also suffered from lower throughput, and unexpected loss of market share,” Bell said. “Additionally, fishing communities suffered from a loss in fish and sales tax revenues.”
Gov. Sean Parnell requested disaster declarations over the summer following weak king salmon returns that had state fisheries managers closing seasons to ensure that enough fish reached breeding streams. In some cases, managers halted fishing for other salmon species so enough kings could escape.
The U.S. Department of Commerce in September declared king salmon fisheries a disaster in several watersheds. The declaration covered the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, which flow into the Bering Sea, and the Cook Inlet region south of Anchorage, which includes the Kenai River. The declaration made commercial fishermen eligible for federal disaster relief.
King salmon, also called chinook salmon, are the largest of the five Pacific salmon in Alaska waters. They hatch in freshwater streams, live a year in rivers and spend three to four years in ocean water before returning to streams to breed and die.
The reason for poor king salmon returns remains unknown but researchers suspect ocean factors. State officials last month organized a symposium to identify gaps in a king salmon research plan and called for more study of smolt in nearshore ocean waters.
The figure for commercial fishermen provided by Bell included losses in 2010 and 2011 for Yukon River fishery king salmon losses and for 2011 Kuskokwim River fishery losses.
Federal law calls for a comparison of commercial fishery revenues in the disaster years to revenues for the five previous years. The five-year revenue average on the Yukon was $2.4 million and on the Kuskokwim, $36,646, with zero revenue in 2012.
For the Upper Cook Inlet set gillnet fishery for all salmon, the five-year average revenue was $10.9 million and $460,193 for northern district set gillnetters. Revenue this year for setnetters was $1.1 million in Upper Cook Inlet and $260,566 in the northern district.
Bell said lost sport fishing and subsistence fishing opportunities also had an economic effect.
In Cook Inlet, the state estimated a loss of 29,630 angler days for guided and unguided sport fishing in fresh and salt water, which would have resulted in direct spending of $10.4 million and indirect spending of $7.3 million.
Harvest estimates from subsistence surveys for recent years were not available, Bell said. In some cases, subsistence users restricted from catching kings had the opportunity to catch more abundant chum, sockeye or coho salmon.