Unless you fished for salmon this summer at Bristol Bay, it’s been slim pickings for fishermen in other Alaska regions. Salmon returns have been so poor that communities already are claiming fishery disasters.
Cordova’s City Council last week unanimously passed a resolution asking the state to declare disasters for both the 2018 Copper River sockeye and Chinook salmon runs and the 2020 sockeye, chum and Chinook runs at the Copper River and Prince William Sound.
The resolution also urges the state and federal governments to declare a “condition of economic disaster in Cordova as a result,” reported Seafood.com, adding, “The town of 2,500 is now the first of what will likely be at least one or two others to ask for a fisheries and economic disaster declaration in 2020.”
The sockeye fishery at Chignik on the Alaskan Peninsula also has remained closed again this year. So few salmon have returned state managers said it is unlikely escapement goals will be achieved for the third consecutive year.
“It’s looking like one of the worst years in Chignik history,” Ross Renick, area manager for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game told KDLG in Dillingham.
Salmon catches throughout Cook Inlet are bleak again this year with a total take barely topping 2.7 million, mostly pinks. Only 748,000 sockeyes have come out of the Inlet so far this season.
Southeast Alaska communities also are being hit hard by weak returns; by Aug. 8 the total catch for the region had yet to reach six million salmon. For pinks, the catch was nearing 4 million out of an already low forecast of 12 million fish, one-third of the 10 year average of 35 million humpies.
Also low were pink prices – a nickel a pound compares to a regionwide average of 33 cents in 2019.
For chums, the Southeast catch had yet to reach 1.5 million out of a projected take of 9 million fish.
Sluggish chum returns to the Yukon means summer fishing is likely over and ADF&G said no commercial openers are likely for this fall.
Low numbers also reduced fishing time at Norton Sound where only pinks have again shown up in strong numbers, but with no buying interest.
At Kotzebue, a total harvest could come in at under 200,000 chums for the first time since 2009.
Across the state, the peak for coho salmon production is still a few weeks but catches so far are skimpy compared to past years. A total catch of 4.2 million silver salmon is projected for the season.
There are a few notable mentions for Alaska’s 2020 salmon fishery.
For the first time since 2015 commercial fishing occurred in the Kuskokwim region.
Kodiak’s pink salmon catch has been strong and steady, nearing 9 million.
Alaska sockeye catches have tracked nicely with preseason projections at over 44 million fish so far. More than 39 million of the reds came from Bristol Bay but fishermen are not happy.
A base price of 70 cents a pound is down 48% from last year and “has understandably created anger and confusion among fishermen,” said the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association in a statement on market conditions.
In all, Alaska’s statewide, all-species salmon catch for 2020 is projected at nearly 133 million fish.
Salmon facts: 95% of wild salmon eaten by Americans comes from Alaska, but Alaska salmon provides only about 13% of the global supply. Farmed salmon production outnumbers wild harvests by nearly 3 to 1.
Fishermen, registered buyers and hatcheries have a new and easier way to do business online from a single location--SeafoodAuction.net.
“Your existing buyers are part of this if they choose to be, and they're the ones that are bidding. It just makes everything easier,” said Nate Berga of Kenai, the auction creator who has over 20 years’ experience in both Alaska fishing and buying.
“This is somewhat like eBay in that it's a platform for fishermen to go to advertise that I'm going fishing on this date for X amount of pounds of quota. And all the normal buyers that are around here can go to one spot to see what fishermen are going out, when, and how much. So existing companies that fishermen are used to selling to have the opportunity to bid through this platform.”
The streamlined SeafoodAuction process, Berga added, is completely above board.
“Fishermen often wonder if they are getting the best price and did they call the right buyers. And from the buyer’s side, no one necessarily knows what's going on or who's paying what. So this provides transparency in the marketplace,” he explained.
The Seafood Auction also can streamline sales of hatchery cost recovery salmon, the fish sold to help fund their operations. Instead of soliciting bids from various buyers, all transactions can be done online.
“Hatcheries maintain control in that they approve who can participate in the auction,” Berga said. “If there's been anyone who they've had issues with, they may opt to not let somebody participate for whatever reason. It gives control to the hatchery to decide who is qualified to bid. Once that's established, those companies can go ahead and bid in the normal auction format where the highest bidder wins.”
With all of the marketing chaos cause by the Covid pandemic, Berga said streamlined buying and selling by auction provides a welcome break.
“Things are really uncertain right now,” he said, “and this definitely gives them an option.”
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All Hands needed on survey
Alaska’s most popular annual seafood marketing gathering is making plans to meet online in early November instead of in person. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s annual “All Hands on Deck” event brings a huge mix of industry and interested public together to “talk fish” – but Covid has corked the event for this year.
“Typically, this event is held over the course of several days in Anchorage where we can all get together in the same room and have these conversations. Obviously, with travel and large meetings continuing to be uncertain for the foreseeable future, we’ve had to make a decision with our board to move to a virtual platform for 2020,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director.
The All Hands meeting provides a look back at the industry’s economics and trends for the previous year, and a look ahead. ASMI, which is a public/private partnership between the state and industry, is guided by a wide range of committees that cover nearly every fish in the sea. Others provide expertise on domestic and international marketing programs, communications and technical support.
Heimbigner said ASMI is researching ways to make All Hands the best event possible and input from the public in a short survey can help. The status of reliable internet for remote participants also is critical information.
“What is the most important part of All Hands to you, what topics do you want to make sure we discuss and it’s really important for us to know whether the majority of participants have access to reliable internet and can access video conferences to look at presentations online, or if most of them will be calling in and might not have access to the video aspect,” she said.
One benefit, Heimbigner added, is that those who have been unable to attend All Hands in the past can join in, as all meetings are open to the public.
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