Fish Factor: Alaska’s total salmon catch down 44% from 2019

Tamped down prices due to toppled markets caused by the COVID-19 pandemic combined with low salmon returns to many Alaska regions added up to reduced paychecks for fishermen and will mean lower tax revenues for fishing communities.

A summary of the preliminary harvests and values by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game shows that Alaska’s total 2020 salmon catch came in at just under 117 million fish, a 44% decrease from last season’s haul of 208.3 million fish, and the 13th lowest on record. 

The statewide salmon value of $295.2 million is a whopping 56% decrease from 2019’s $673.4 million, and when adjusted for inflation, it is the lowest value since 2006.

Sockeyes accounted for nearly 59% of Alaska’s total salmon value at $174.9 million and comprised 40% of the harvest at 46.1 million fish. 

Pinks accounted for 51% of the statewide salmon harvest at 51.4 million and 21% of the value at $61.8 million. 

Regional tallies compared to the 2019 catches and values reveal a clearer picture of the economic hits, which are down by half or more across the board.

At Southeast Alaska, 14.3 million salmon crossed the docks valued at just over $50 million to fishermen. That compares to a catch of 32.2 million fish last year paying out at $101.8 million.

Prince William Sound fishermen fetched $49.6 million for salmon catches totaling 25.5 million this year, down from 57.7 million fish valued at just under $115 million last season.  

At Cook Inlet, a catch of 3.6 million salmon rang in at just over $10 million, down by 4.3 million fish and $22.9 million, respectively.

A huge haul of pinks pushed Kodiak’s salmon catch to over 24 million with a dockside value of $26.6 million. That’s well below the value of $47 million last year on a harvest of 35.7 million fish.

Chignik fishermen were beached all season for a fishery value of zero. That compares to 2019 values of 3.5 million sockeyes harvested, worth just over $8 million.

At Bristol Bay, a catch of just over 40 million salmon was valued at $140.6 million to fishermen, down from 44.4 million fish and a record payday of $306.5 million in 2019.

At the Alaska Peninsula, the salmon value came in at $16.6 million this summer on a harvest of 8.7 million fish, compared to $49 million on landings of nearly 27 million salmon last year. 

Fishermen on the Kuskowkim finally went fishing after being shut out since 2016 when the region’s “community development” non-profit abruptly pulled the plug on buying salmon. A newly formed Quinhagak co-op of four villages landed 197,365 salmon this summer (mostly sockeyes) worth $596,272.

Salmon fishermen on the Yukon took under 19,000 fish of mostly chums, valued at $51,444 for a summer harvest only. That compares to 561,644 fish valued at over $2 million for summer and fall fisheries in 2019.

At Norton Sound, only 50,679 salmon were caught this summer worth under $300,000 to fishermen. That compares to 381,124 fish valued at over $2 million last year. 

Kotzebue salmon fishermen landed 149,820 chums this summer for a payout of $542,306.

Last year’s catch of 493,340 salmon was valued at over $1.5 million.

Looking at average salmon prices paid to fishermen compared to 2019: Chinook averaged $5.07 a pound compared to $4.48, sockeyes averaged $0.76 down from $1.45; cohos averaged $1.17, down just 2 cents per pound, the average pink price of $0.30 was the same as last year, and the average dock price for chums at $0.43 was a drop of 6 cents a pound from 2019.  

It’s important to note that the dollar values for all salmon catches are preliminary and do not include post-season price adjustments.  

Some salmon facts: 95 percent of wild salmon eaten by Americans comes from Alaska, but Alaska salmon provides only about 13 percent of the global supply. Farmed salmon production outnumbers wild harvests by nearly 3 to1. 

Halibut hauls

Alaska’s eight-month Pacific halibut fishery ends on November 15 and just a few days later, stakeholders will get an overview of the health of the stock and a glimpse at potential catches for next year.

The total halibut catch limit for 2020, which includes Alaska, the West Coast states and British Columbia, totaled 35.5 million pounds. Alaska’s share was17.1 million pounds, of which 93% (15.9 million pounds) was landed.

A breakdown by the International Pacific Halibut Commission shows that 64% of the catch went to the commercial fishing sector, 17% to recreational users, 3% for subsistence users and 14% went to “non-directed fisheries,” meaning halibut caught and discarded as bycatch. Discarded halibut in 2020 is estimated at just over 5 million pounds, down from 6.56 million in 2019, nearly all of which was taken in Alaska non-halibut fisheries (4.68 million pounds). 

Much more will be revealed at the Nov. 18-19 interim online meeting of the IPHC, which already has posted a plethora of documents for review. Of note are the results of the successful summer “Fishery-Independent Setline Survey” at 898 stations that indicates some hopeful upticks. 

“Available views allow users to interactively review the raw and adjusted (for hook competition and timing) results from 2020 and prior years with an ability to drill down and track differences among areas and across years,” said Dr. David Wilson, IPHC Executive Director.  

He noted the catch-per-unit-effort data (per hook) at: iphc.int/data/FISS-catch-per-unit-effort.

Final halibut catch limits will be set at the IPHC annual meeting Jan. 25-29 which also will be online due to Covid concerns.  The deadline to submit regulatory proposals is December 26. 

Everything about AK fisheries

This week features a virtual fish meeting lineup like never before. And while nothing can replace in-person gatherings, the online meetings let many more people participate, and provides documents that remain available long after the meetings are done. The diverse topics provide an opportunity like never before for people to expand their knowledge and understanding of the seafood industry. 

United Fishermen of Alaska webinars run from Nov.16 – 20 starting on Monday with a Seafood Marketing Update, followed by the latest updates on ocean acidification.

Tuesday features Bycatch Management in North Pacific Groundfish Fisheries, an Alaska Hatchery Update and an Update on Transboundary Mining Issues

On Wednesday, the UFA lineup includes Updates from the USCG and an ADF&G Update. Thursday features Get to Know the Alaska Board of Fisheries Members and Update on BOF Meeting Cycle and a Pebble Mine and Bristol Bay 2020 Recap

Friday wraps up the online offerings with a webinar called Get to Know Your Coastal Legislators. Find more information at ufafish.org.

Pacific Marine Expo virtual meetings, hosted by National Fisherman magazine, also take place from Nov. 17-19.

  • Day One features Making Waves: Offshore Wind Power & Commercial Fishing, followed by Workforce Development: Resources and Partners.
  • On Wednesday, a Maritime Economic Forecast Breakfast will focus on the upcoming year for the Port of Seattle and beyond, followed by a webinar on Vessel Design and Gear Technology and the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act: Funding Repower Partnerships for Commercial Fishing Businesses
  • Day Three will feature a Fishing Industry Career Fair and an update on what’s next for the Pebble Mine. 
  • See the full line up at pacificmarineexpo.com.