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How much is a fish really worth? In answering this question one must consider many factors, for many values can be placed on a single fish.
There's the value of a commercial troller's payoff after a good run; the value of initiating your son or daughter into the quirky, time-honored family fishing traditions; the value of an epic fishing tale told over many beers and many years; or the value of a fresh, mouth-watering piece of honey-glazed, white king salmon at a family barbecue. The list goes on and on.
Last year, a 33.9-pound king salmon was worth $15,000, plus a trophy, jacket and belt buckle. In 1996 a 7.9-pounder was worth a whopping $100,000. That's about $442.50 and $12,658.25 per pound of fish respectively. No, this isn't the drastic price fluctuation that has hampered Alaska's fishing industry over the last decade. It's merely a fraction of the payoff from the Territorial Sportsmen and Juneau businesses during the 56-year history of the Golden North Salmon Derby.
This year the price per pound of chinook ought to be equally as attractive for the winner of the annual derby, which runs Aug. 23-25. Anglers will compete for a slew of cash and prizes, as well as this year's title. This year's derby cache is speculated to be more than $80,000 in cash and merchandise.
Some of the prizes in the past have included boats, cars, fish smokers, gift certificates, fishing gear, as well as varied disbursements of cash, ever changing with inflation. Upwards of 3,000 anglers will compete in this year's derby to be among the top 100 who will receive prizes. The champion will not only be bumped into a higher tax bracket, but will become part of a coveted list of local fishing legends who have the option of flaunting their winning trophies, jackets and belt buckles throughout town.
Several others also will reach fishing notoriety on factors as random as catching a 50-pounder. Special prizes will be awarded to the 56th place, due to this being the 56th competition, and the angler taking 100th place is traditionally awarded $1,000 in cash.
Co-chairman of the Golden North Salmon Derby Malcolm Menzies said the top eight places will receive a combination of cash and merchandise worth more than $1,000 each. Places nine through 15 will receive cash and prizes valued between $500 and $800 each. Menzies said different places will receive different amounts of merchandise and cash, but estimates all prizes will be valued above $300.
There are also 10 tagged fish that will be heavily sought by glory-seeking derby-goers. Nine are worth $1,000 and one of them is the golden gem of the Golden North Salmon Derby, which could bring one lucky line $100,000. Last year two of the 10 tagged fish were brought in, although the $100,000 fish sponsored by Budweiser was one that got away.
Even though not all fish caught during the derby will be prize contenders, the value of those fish have the possibility of making a lasting impression. Participants in the derby have the option of donating their fish to the derby committee, which sells them to raise money for scholarships.
This year six graduating seniors from Juneau-Douglas High School received four-year scholarships worth $10,000 each, and two more received one-year renewable scholarships worth $3,000 each.
Considering the cost of education these days, those are some valuable fish.
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.