Petersburg fishing industry feels the effects of record salmon harvests
Alaska’s salmon fishery harvest smashed records this season with everyone from fishermen to cannery workers feeling the tremors. Alaska’s Southeast regions pulled more than one third of the salmon stock from the waters this summer.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website, roughly 103 million salmon were caught in Southeast waters compared to the 265 million salmon caught statewide according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce. The Southeast Alaska purse seine fishery closed for pink salmon September 8. ADFG final harvest estimates stack up to around 85.5 million pink salmon—a new record that casts a shadow over the 72 million harvests in 1999.
The preseason forecast was for around 54 million fish. But signs early this summer showed those numbers would be far surpassed. And when seine boats started unloading 10 million fish per opening, production couldn’t keep up with volume.
“I think the kicker was we were all on limits,” said Eric Rosvold, captain of the Intangible. “There was an extraordinary amount of fish around but fishing wasn’t extraordinary. Everybody gets to be average.”
Rosvold was happy with the price trends this year. He said the price processors pay usually diminishes as the run gets stronger but prices remained pretty steady .
According to ADFG, the price of pinks was about 40 cents per pound and with more than 281 million pounds harvested the overall value of the catch is more than $112 million.
A local cannery manager said the numbers of fish coming in took the industry by surprise.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that this year stressed everybody,” the manager said. “Not a single company was able to keep up with the full volume their fleet was able to catch.”
The manager said Petersburg canneries weren’t the only ones being stretched thin. Many companies had plans to bring in floating processors or to send fish to other plants but fisheries around Alaska were maxed out.
“You come out of a year like this thinking, boy, how do we factor this into our plans for the future and is that even a relevant question?” he said.
Gangbuster harvests like this past summer are rare. Kevin Clark, ADFG Assistant Area Management Biologist for Petersburg and Wrangell, said there are no flat answers when it comes to predicting salmon populations and why those numbers grow or shrink.
“What it all boils down to, in essence, is survivability,” Clark said.
He added the list of factors affecting survivability such as salinity, ocean currents, water temperature and predator populations are only a few of the many reasons salmon populations were so high this past summer and why they may go down in others.
ADFG data records more than ten million Chum, three million Coho, 900,000 Sockeye and 223,000 Chinook salmon have been harvested this year.
Although numbers aren’t available yet, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce, officials are estimating this summer’s harvest to be the most valuable returns in the history of Alaska.