Value of ‘forest fish’ estimated at $88 million

Chugach National Forest. (Aug. 24, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

A new study led by the U.S. Forest Service concludes that Alaska’s Tongass and Chugach national forests contribute millions of salmon annually to the state’s commercial fisheries, with a dock value estimated at $88 million a year.

The U.S.F.S.’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, headquartered in Portland, Ore., released its findings in early February, crediting the intact temperate rainforests of the Tongass and the Chugach for the abundant production of Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon caught primarily in four commercial salmon management areas adjacent to these forests.

The federal research station used Alaska Department of Fish and Game data and fish estimates from 2007 through 2016 to quantify the number and value of Pacific salmon originating from streams, rivers and lakes in the Tongass and Chugach, with a focus on all five commercially significant salmon species.

“Pacific salmon fisheries are absolutely central to Alaska’s economy and culture,” said Adelaide Johnson, a hydrologist with the research station in Juneau and the study lead. “We suspected that many of the ocean-caught Pacific salmon that support the fishing industry likely began their lies in forest streams that drain the Tongass and Chugach national forests.”

Johnson and U.S.F.S. colleagues Ryan Bellmore and Ronald Mendel, with Stormy Haught of ADF&G used a three-step process to determine how many of the fish originated in these two national forests. The process involved calculating the total number of salmon harvested in regional commercial harvest areas, subtracting salmon originating from hatcheries and from areas outside forest boundaries.

Bellmore said their findings underscore the importance of these forest rivers and lakes for sustaining salmon. Bellmore said the study also vastly underestimates the value of salmon “because it does not include subsistence and recreational salmon fisheries, which are critically important to local communities and the regional economy.”

This study can contribute to discussions about alternative land management strategies that might affect salmon populations and associated commercial salmon fisheries, but additional research is needed to clarify all pathways through which these two vast forests support productive fisheries, Johnson said.