Story last updated at 1:00 p.m. Thursday, May 2, 2002

Salmon sales point to bleak season for netters
by Joel Gay

SALMON PRICES THIS SPRING continue to look dismal, painting a bleak picture for gillnetters and seiners this summer. On almost every front, prices and/or sales have turned south from even the low levels of last year. According to the newly created Alaska Salmon Production Report, released by the Alaska Department of Revenue in mid-March, the average value of frozen sockeyes dropped from $1.82 the fall of 2000 to $1.58 in the fall of 2001. Frozen pinks fell 13 cents a pound, to 44 cents, during the same period. On the Tsukiji market in March, Bristol Bay sockeyes dropped from $2.62 in 2001 to $2.04 this year. Cases of canned pinks sold below $42 last fall compared with $51.11 the year before. The only salmon product that showed any strength was pink salmon roe, which rose in volume at the same time the price jumped by nearly $1 a pound.

A RECENT PROGRAM at the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce featured Chris Mitchell, the former director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation who is now helping Cook Inlet fishermen and several other areas develop branding programs for their salmon. According to the Kodiak Daily Mirror, he praised voluntary efforts at improving quality, such as the one proposed in Cook Inlet, saying mandated solutions are not the answer. He also talked up the value of branding. "Price is not an issue when the market gets something they perceive to be of value," he said. "Existing customers will be interested in something special. The domestic market doesnpit know anything about our salmon."

IF SEATTLE FREAKS OUT at the arrival of the first Copper River salmon of the year, why donpit Alaska communities? That question was posed by Kodiak fisheries journalist and consultant Laine Welch at the same Kodiak chamber meeting Mitchell attended. The Kodiak salmon season opens June 9, she pointed out. "You donpit see any celebration at our local stores or restaurants, or even any pretense of celebrating it," she said, according to the Kodiak Daily Mirror. She suggested the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce try to whip up some enthusiasm for salmon. "We should have pride within our own community," Welch said.

KODIAK HERRING FISHERMEN have landed about 1,125 tons thus far in 2002, the Department of Fish and Game announced Sunday. About 1,000 tons of that is seine-caught, said biologist Kevin Brennan, and only two major sections remained open for that fleet <> Kiliuda and Ugak bays. Gillnetters have had slim pickings so far, Brennan said, but fishing picked up late last week when they found a large biomass in Danger Bay. So many fish were caught that the entire Afognak Area closed, he said. Only eight gillnetters have fished, but Brennan said that might increase as news of the Danger Bay catch circulates.

AERIAL SURVEYS HAVE STARTED in Togiak, but according to Jim Browning of the Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham, itpis still a little early for herring to arrive. Approximately 15 seals and 10 sea lions were observed between Metervik and Nunavachuk bays, and more than 100 gray whales were seen feeding. No vessels were on the grounds as of early this week, however. A preseason poll finds eight processing companies plan to participate, with daily processing capacity should be approximately 1,925 tons. Browning estimated the seine fleet is will number about 40 vessels, while the gillnet fleet is estimated at 135 vessels.

THE FIRST HERRING have shown up in Kamishak Bay, according to Lee Hammarstrom of the Department of Fish and Game in Homer. The seiner Silver Beach has been chartered for a grounds survey, and it picked up a sample of fish on Sunday, Hammarstrom said. While he was flying aerial surveys Monday, Hammarstrom said he saw a small school, and brought back the Silver Beach samples. A preliminary look found a mixture of young and old fish, which suggests a stronger-than-usual showing of young fish, he said. Normally the younger age classes donpit appear until later in the season. The Silver Beach will spend two nine-day periods on the Kamishak Bay fishing grounds, collecting samples now and later in the season.

HERRING BIOLOGISTS ELSEWHERE report some good news this spring. Kevin Brennan in Kodiak said fishermen are finding lots of 3-year-olds throughout the island. "Wepive very encouraged by the number of fish wepire seeing around," he said. In Prince William Sound, acoustic surveys this spring found the biggest schools of herring seen in years, said research biologist Steve Moffitt, and a substantial percentage are 3-year-olds. "This definitely looks stronger than I remember in the last five or six years," he said. The age class is not as strong as the big ones of 1984 and 1988, but is the first good news Prince William Sound herring fishermen have heard since the fishery closed four years ago.

FISHERMEN WITH STRONG VIEWS on vessel monitoring systems, or VMS, are invited to join a new committee being put together by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to evaluate VMS issues, two-way communications systems and other alternatives. The committee will meet this summer and fall, then report back to the council in October with possible recommendations to NMFS on the most cost-effective options. Nominations are due May 17. Contact Jane DiCosimo at 271-2809. DILLINGHAM WILL HAVE ICE for sale this summer, assuming the new ice machine purchased by Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. is installed and operating in time. The city of Dillingham has agreed to operate and maintain the machine, and will charge enough for its ice to pay for the operation, according to the Bristol BayTimes. The ice maker left Anchorage by barge in late March and was expected to be in Dillingham in mid-April.

A SAND POINT FISHERMAN was honored recently by the Alaska Legislature for having been in the right place at the right time three different times during the last 20 years, and having saved 11 fishermenpis lives. Dwain Foster and his crews plucked three crewmen off the overturned vessel Tradewind out of the water in mid-February near King Cove. In February 1980, Foster and crew saved five men from the Oregon Dawn when it sank in 70-knot winds near Pavlof Bay, and later that year he rescued three men off the Yankee Girl. The Legislature cited him for "acts of bravery," according to the Dutch