KETCHIKAN - Southeast Alaska saw continued improvements in 2006 of a commercial salmon fishing industry that's still on the mend after terrible seasons in recent years.
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Pink salmon returns were the worst in nearly two decades, but commercial fishermen enjoyed the best ex-vessel value so far this decade for their harvests of all species of salmon in Southeast, according to preliminary data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The $95.2 million payoff far exceeds 2002's low of $51.5 million.
Southeast harvesters landed about 11.6 million pinks in 2006, down from almost 60 million in 2005.
Fish and Game officials and others don't have a concrete reason for the low pink return, but say the drought-like weather during the summer of 2004 is seen as a probable cause.
Decent returns of chum, coho and sockeye salmon helped offset the absence of pinks for commercial net fishermen in 2006.
Hatchery-produced fish played a significant role in the harvest of 13.9 million chum salmon, with a preliminary total ex-vessel value of $43.5 million.
"These hatcheries literally saved the bacon this year," said Bob Thorstenson Jr., executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association.
Average per-pound ex-vessel prices for all species were up, most noticeably for coho salmon - $1.41 in 2006 compared to 95 cents last year - and chinook salmon - $3.37 versus $2.52 - according to Fish and Game.
Also last year, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006 approved by Congress on Dec. 9 included provisions to provide a loan of up to $25 million for a program to buy back about half of the 415 limited-entry permits for the commercial purse seine fishery in Southeast Alaska.