Choppy Waters: Climate change, China loom over stronger forecasted salmon runs.

AuthorSimonelli, Isaac Stone

This year's salmon runs will provide insight into the theory that a warm water anomaly in the Gulf of Alaska in 2015 was to blame for poor runs nearly everywhere in the Last Frontier (with the exception of the record-setting run of sockeye in Bristol Bay) last year.

"The very large Bristol Bay sockeye harvest, 41.9 million, was definitely the highlight of 2018. Another highlight were substantial chum salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska, 11.5 million, and Prince William Sound, 3.5 million," says Rich Brenner, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG).

If the forecast for 2019 is realized, Alaska fishermen can look forward to a record harvest of about 29 million chum salmon during 2019, with most of this harvest predicted to come from hatchery chum salmon in Southeast Alaska.

"We are also predicting sizeable harvests of pink salmon in Prince William Sound, about 65 million; Kodiak, about 27 million; and the South Alaska Peninsula, about 20.6 million," Brenner says. "But we are calling for a fairly small harvest of pink salmon in Southeast Alaska. Finally, the Bristol Bay sockeye harvest is expected to exceed 26 million during 2019."

Consistently, experts point toward the record-breaking Bristol Bay sockeye run as the highlight of 2018. Though down from about 41 million, even if the forecasted 26 million run into Bristol Bay this year, it will be counted as a strong, above-average year for the world-class fishery.

"If you were a Bristol Bay fishermen, things were good; if you weren't, on average, it was a rough season," says Garrett Evridge, an economist with McDowell Group, an Alaska-based research firm. "The volume of salmon that we harvested was among the smallest harvest years that we've seen in the last thirty to forty years, but it was one of the most valuable."

The average ex-vessel price overall for salmon was $5.20 per fish, which was significantly higher than the $3.05 paid per fish in 2017. According to McDowell Group the average ex-vessel price was $0.98 overall for salmon, with chinook pushing the price way up with a value of $5.98 per pound. Coho fetched $1.34 per pound, and sockeye was valued at $1.33 per pound. At the bottom of the price range were pinks, valued at $0.45 per pound, followed by chum at $0.78 per pound.

Though chum is close to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to price, there has been a shift in the market--and marketing--of the fish.

Evridge points out that as the price of sockeye increases, it helps bolster the prices of other species of salmon--especially when Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) and others in the industry are building a market for the fish.

"ASMI has taken the charge for calling it [chum] keta, and since then it's been pretty well accepted in the US marketplace and is also performing well internationally," says Jeremy Woodrow, the acting director of ASMI.

Trailers have not always focused on keta; they've been doing it just for the last ten years or so, and still it depends on the price, Evridge says.

"It's a sign of the increasing value for all five salmon species that it's worth it for a trailer to harvest a relatively small number of keta compared to the numbers you'd get with a seiner, because the quality of the fish--bright fish--are worth it," Evridge says. "The data shows keta is a valued contributor to total Alaska salmon production."

There is little leftover stock coming into the season, so things look good for the price and market for Alaska salmon in 2019, says Evridge.

"A bright spot is definitely market conditions that the...

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