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Salmon price hikes made 2010 a good season despite average catch numbers

Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This year's salmon season appears to have been a good one, more so in revenues than in catches.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game issued a press release Monday stating: "At the end of the 2010 salmon season, Alaska's commercial salmon fishermen took home their largest paycheck in 18 years. The preliminary 2010 estimate indicates that the harvest generated $533.9 million, the highest exvessel value of any season since 1992."

It stated, however, that these funds were not distributed evenly, with 55 percent of that value coming from Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound.

The release also states the 168.6 million fish harvested in 2010 is the 11th largest harvest since statehood and was 31.3 million fish higher than the preseason forecast.

The release also talks about the prices. All species showed price increases from last year. It states, "The increase indicates a strong recovery trend from the low salmon prices of 2002. Final 2010 prices for all salmon species may be higher yet after post-season adjustments and end-of-season bonuses are paid to fishermen.

Local fishing representatives agree that the price increases are significant, as the season did not present an overwhelming growth in catches.

"The take-home message is prices are up," said Eric Prestegard, executive director of Douglas Island Pink and Chum, or DIPAC. He said the returns were slightly above average and that's a good thing, as it means fishermen can get away with smaller catch numbers and still make a profit.

"The last five years have been very good for us, and this past season was even a little bit down but still above average," he said. "We know our contribution to the fisheries is going to be in the neighborhood of 7 or 8 million dollars," he added.

He estimated many salmon prices have increased around 20 percent, with chum prices being especially impressive.

He said commercial fleets have still worked hard and caught a great share of fish, which he said gives an economic boost to Southeast Alaska.

Prestegard said DIPAC's own harvest was above average and produced enough cost recovery fish numbers.

"We recovered all our costs and even made some additional payments on some existing debt," he said. "To have a hatchery like this building doesn't come cheap."

Chris Knight, executive director of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters' Association, agreed. The price increase, which he estimated at 25 percent, made for significant gains and left a lot of people pleasantly surprised, even though the fishing itself was not extraordinary, he said.

"It was above average but not off the chart by any means," he said, noting this season certainly topped last year's.

He also said the increased price relieved pressure in having to catch as many fish to make the same amount in previous years.

"2010 was fairly up for most folks. I believe most were in the black, meaning they made money," he said.

Knight said DIPAC's contributions from the hatchery probably resulted in about $7.5 to $8 million for gillnetters out of Juneau. He estimated three-quarters of their catches were from DIPAC fish.

ADF&G representatives also agreed increased prices made these profits possible in a non-exceptional year.

"It was not an outstanding year but it was in what fishermen made," said ADF&G Juneau area manager Kevin Monagle.

He agreed the price has gone up for all species, with the biggest price jump for chum, increasing from 15 cents a pound about 5 years ago to 60 cents a pound.

"Pink salmon has also gone up and that's the bread and butter of seine fisheries in the Southeast," he said.

He said one reason for not having greater catch numbers was that these fish resulted from spawning in 2008, which was a poor year.

He noted some strong fishing areas included good coho numbers in the Taku River and strong returns on pink salmon in the southern Southeast plus in some outside waters.

Ketchikan area biologist for ADF&G Scott Walker said districts in southern Southeast Alaska were strong, yet some were poor.

He said District 1 around Ketchikan was the strongest with 4.5 to 6 million pink salmon. He said while the purse seine fishermen targeted pink salmon, they also caught a lot of chum that was released from the hatcheries, and the extra fish created an above average catch.

He said the weakest area this season was District 4, covering the outer coast in southern Southeast Alaska at Noyes Island. He said this is unusual as there's usually good fishing there.

Randy Bachman, ADF&G area management biologist for the Commercial Fisheries Division at Lynn Canal, said most catches were near average with the exception of coho and pink salmon. He said 171,000 pink salmon were caught, which was twice the average. He said chum, at 765,000, made up the most of the season catches.

Prestegard explained now that winter is here, most of the fish on supermarket shelves will be frozen from this season, yet some king salmon may be delivered fresh from trollers on occasion.

"Huge harvests statewide means we're feeding the world," he said.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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