A robust forecast, followed by what first appeared to be a season gone bust in Bristol Bay, culminated with a run of wild sockeyes exceeding 50 million reds, and the price to fishermen sank.
"Everybody's concerned with the price," said Dave Harsila, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association, and a veteran Bristol Bay harvester. "I don't think anybody expected it to be that low, but that's what it is.
Two seafood industry trade associations have come to an agreement to transfer, effective for the 2016 season and beyond, ownership of the Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certificate for Alaska salmon.
The transfer announced July 21 by the Pacific Seafood Processors Association and the Alaska Salmon Processors Association is to be completed by Oct. 1.
The agreement will have no impact on sales for 2015.
Coming up this week, Bristol Bay sockeye strategically held back from hitting the nets until everyone doubted they'd show at all; Manakotak says “we can annex, too,” and getting to know our friends, the cannery workers. We had help KDLG's Molly Dischner and Dave Bendinger in Dillingham, and KFSK's Joe Sykes in Petersburg.
A massive cleanup effort is getting underway in Alaska, with tons of marine debris — some likely sent to sea by the 2011 tsunami in Japan — set to be airlifted from rocky beaches and taken by barge for recycling and disposal in the Pacific Northwest.
Five weeks into the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery, with a preseason harvest forecast of 40.5 million fish, the estimated catch was climbing ever so slowly, as fishermen and processors waited it out.
As of July 6, biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game were estimating the total Bristol Bay harvest to date at 9.1 million salmon, and the statewide catch of salmon at 20 million fish.
Alaska's first shellfish hatcheries could be its last, given the impact of growing ocean acidification, according to a new report published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
The research -- by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Alaska and a shellfish hatchery -- found that in 25 years, Alaska’s coastal waters may not be able to support shellfish hatcheries unless costly new systems are put in place.
The chinook salmon situation is looking more hopeful in the early part of the 2015 season relative to recent years, though not yet in the places where better runs are most needed.
Early king salmon seem to be making a comeback from abysmal showings in the last two years. Key rivers in Southcentral Alaska are seeing returns to normalcy and in some cases returns to states unseen for the last 10 years. Even the hard luck Yukon River is experience stronger showings than the past couple years, although still far less than historic averages.
It started with the Copper River and now the harvest of Alaska’s wild salmon is growing quickly, as fisheries in the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak , Cook Inlet, the Yukon River, and Bristol Bay start to kick in.
Commercial harvesters in the Copper River drift fishery harvested an estimated 940,000 wild salmon through June 15, and the overall Prince William Sound harvest reached 1.7 million fish.
That's according to the estimated in-season statewide harvest posted online daily by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
State biologists estimate a total of 946,000 sockeyes have been caught in Prince William Sound, including 907,000 reds in the Copper River drift fishery, where harvesters have also caught some 20,000 kings.
LOWER RUSSIAN LAKE -- What the heck’s a weir, anyway?
“It’s French for fence,” explained Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Robert Begich.
Put simply, the fish weirs used by the department are typically long aluminum dam-like grates that extend the width of a river or creek to impede fish passage. Salmon migrating upstream to spawn are trapped behind the structure, which includes a small door through which technicians can allow fish to move through one at a time. This lets workers click off each fish on hand counters as the salmon pass.
Mediation talks are set to begin June 8 in Seattle regarding participation in a Marine Stewardship Council client group for Alaska salmon certification held by the Seattle-based Alaska Seafood Processors Association.
The Bering Sea is a tough, unforgiving environment. As Alaska Native peoples we have survived and flourished for thousands of years by sustainably harvesting this sea’s bounty, including the noble Pacific halibut. Our home, the island of Saint Paul in the Pribilof Islands, is located in the central Bering Sea in the heart of the nation’s richest commercial fisheries.
In Sunday’s guest column, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association referred to trawl fishing as a grave threat and an “environmentally disastrous policy” that has devastated their halibut fishery and “plundered the Bering Sea.”
As a fishery scientist who has worked for more than 20 years with trawl fishermen to reduce salmon, crab and halibut bycatch, I find the recent rhetoric around proposed North Pacific Fisheries Management Council changes to the Bering Sea halibut bycatch cap very frustrating. In particular, I hear media campaigns underwritten by environmental NGOs claiming, “It’s been 20 years since the halibut bycatch cap was last reduced,” implying that this has created a conservation issue.
Shelikof Strait, in the Gulf of Alaska, is an important spawning area for walleye pollock, the target of the largest--and one of the most valuable--fisheries in the nation. This year, a team of NOAA Fisheries scientists went there to turn their usual view of the fishery upside-down.
Alaska’s celebrated Copper River salmon fishery is off and running, with first run kings and sockeyes paying record prices of $8 and $5.25 a pound respectively to harvesters. And in the marketplace seafood aficionados were lining up in Anchorage to pay $31.95 a pound for Chinook fillets and $24.99 a pound for fillets of red salmon.
Nowhere do people have as much opportunity to speak their minds to fish policymakers as in Alaska. And as a key decision day approaches, a groundswell of Alaska voices is demanding that fishery overseers slash the halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea.
Many Alaskans are speaking out against the more than 6 million pounds of halibut dumped overboard each year as bycatch in trawl fisheries targeting flounder, rockfish, perch, mackerel and other groundfish -- not pollock.
In the last ten years, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl fisheries have killed and discarded 62.6 million pounds of halibut as bycatch. A significant percentage of these juvenile halibut, averaging a little less than five pounds, would have migrated over time to the east, populating the Gulf of Alaska, Southeastern Alaska, and eventually all the way to Northern California. So although the bycatch of halibut is occurring far away in the Bering Sea, its effect is being felt all over Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.