Homer Alaska - Seawatch

Story last updated at 6:40 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2011: Good year for salmon fishermen

Alaska salmon fishermen had a very good year, in spite of the 2011 harvest falling short of expectations, with high prices putting the value of the harvest in record territory.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that the preliminary ex-vessel value of this season's salmon harvest came in at $603 million, the third most valuable since 1975, after 1988 and 2010 respectively. However, they anticipate that when they get the final tally from processors, buyers and direct marketers next spring, it will pass the 2010 value of $605 million.

While the 176 million salmon harvested in 2011 — the ninth largest season since 1960 — fell short of the 203 million predicted, high prices for all species, especially pink and chum salmon, pushed the value of the harvest to an extraordinary level. The pink salmon harvest, valued at more than $170 million, set an all time record; chum salmon fetched $93 million, the third highest value ever recorded; sockeye salmon were worth almost $296 million, a respectable sixth place among historic sockeye harvests. Chinook and coho harvests, at $20 million and $23 million, fell more toward the middle of their historic ranges.

Regionally, Southeast Alaska took first place with the most valuable salmon harvest in the state, worth more than $203 million, including $92 million from pink salmon and $65 million from chum salmon. Bristol Bay, usually the most valuable salmon fishery in the state, came in second with a harvest worth $137 million, and Prince William Sound took third with a harvest worth $101 million, mostly from pink and sockeye salmon. Chignik and Cook Inlet also had unusually valuable fisheries, a result of strong sockeye returns to those areas.

The most phenomenal year on record for salmon prices was 1988, when sockeyes fetched $2.37 per pound and pinks a whopping 79 cents, compared to a high of 48 cents per pound this year in Prince William Sound. The total catch that year was a paltry 101 million fish, or 534 million pounds, but the record prices brought the value up to $782 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $1.43 billion today. The $2.37 sockeye price, adjusted for inflation, would be $4.31 per pound today, and the 79-cent pinks would be worth $1.44 per pound.

A table with information on harvests, average weights, and prices by species for each management area can be found at: www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/fishing/PDFs/commercial/11exvesl.pdf.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program is offering a one-day refrigeration workshop in Kodiak on Nov. 29 to teach fishermen how to maintain, operate and troubleshoot onboard fishing vessel refrigeration equipment.

The class is directed at fishermen who have refrigerated seawater, or RSW, systems on board, and includes a half day of classroom instruction and a half day of supervised hands-on activity.

"We have a training unit that is specifically designed for this purpose," said Julie Matweyou with the marine advisory program. "It's a portable cut-out where you can see what's happening inside the system."

Fishermen also will learn about refrigeration theory, system winterization, controller programming and system sizing.

The instructor is from Integrated Marine Systems in Port Townsend, Wash., and is trained in classroom instruction.

"He's not just a technician," Matweyou said. "He's very good at the teaching aspect of it."

More and more fishermen are recognizing the importance of keeping salmon cold. Of the approximately 1,000 salmon seining vessels in Alaska, nearly 100 percent have refrigeration, according to Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute survey statistics.

Many processors are requiring gillnetters to carry ice, and Bristol Bay salmon boats are increasingly adding refrigeration units. Even some setnetters are installing portable RSW units in on-board tanks on holding skiffs.

The class is aimed at all of those users and more, Matweyou said. She noted that some processors have sent people to the workshops in order to provide support to their tenders and fishing fleets.

The class has been around since 2008 and has had about 220 participants so far.

"It has been very popular," Matweyou said. "Very successful."

It has previously been held in Anchorage, Homer, Petersburg, Kodiak, Cordova, Ketchikan and Sitka and is next scheduled for Juneau in February 2012. Organizers do not anticipate it returning to Homer until next winter.

Class size is limited to 25, and preregistration is required by Nov. 22. Cost of the class is $200, which includes a refrigeration manual.

For more information or to preregister, go to http://seagrant.uaf.edu/map/, or call Matweyou at (907) 486-1514.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking input on enforcement priorities, having released its draft recommendations last week.

These enforcement priorities are the latest step NOAA is taking to improve its enforcement program and will help the agency emphasize compliance through better communication with fishermen.

Other improvements in the last two years include new leadership, higher-level review of charging decisions and a new penalty policy to ensure more consistent penalties nationwide.

"Fair and effective enforcement is essential to our ability to rebuild and protect the public's fisheries and other natural resources, and to protect the many fishermen who play by the rules," said Bruce Buckson, director of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement.

"These priorities will help us focus our resources and strategically use our state and federal partnerships to provide the most benefit for marine resources and the American people."

The draft priorities were created collaboratively with the fishery management councils, interstate fishery commissions and interested stakeholders, including fishermen, representing public, private and nongovernmental organizations.

The national priorities focus on helping the fishing industry understand and follow regulations that support sustainable fish stocks and a sustainable fishing industry; implementing compliance and enforcement plans for catch share management; monitoring fish product imports for compliance with domestic and international laws and regulations; protecting marine resources in National Marine Sanctuaries; protecting marine mammal and endangered species by enforcing bycatch reduction, gear and closed area regulations; and supporting observer programs, which collect critical scientific data about fish stock status, bycatch and fishery interactions with protected species.

The full draft priorities and ways to submit comments can be found at www.mfs.noaa.gov/ole/ and www.gc.noaa.gov/enforce-office.html.

The public comment period runs through Jan. 9.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.