Fish Factor by Laine Welch

June 4, 2021

Eager buyers are awaiting Alaska salmon from fisheries that are opening almost daily across the state and it’s easy to track catches and market trends for every region.


Fishery managers forecast a statewide catch topping 190 million salmon this year, 61% higher than the 2020 take of just over 118 million. But globally, the supply of wild salmon is expected to be down amid increased demand.


The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Run Forecasts and Harvest Projections for 2021 Alaska Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2020 Season, provides breakdowns for all species by region.


And salmon catches are updated daily at ADF&G’s Blue Sheet, found at its commercial fisheries web page. They also post weekly summaries of harvests broken out by every region along with comparisons to past years.


Predictions for the 2021 mix of fish call for a catch of 269,000 Chinook salmon, up slightly from 2020, but 25% below the 10-year average.


The projected sockeye harvest of 46.6 million will help replenish low inventories that saw strong export prices in early 2021 and “a continued promising market,” said Dan Lesh, a fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group who compiles weekly updates during the season for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.


The 2021 coho forecast of 3.8 million is 56% higher than 2020, and similar to the 10-year average. Coho represent only around 5% of Alaska’s salmon harvest value.


A catch this year of 15.3 million chum salmon represents a 23% drop from the 10-year average, but a nearly 80% increase from the dismal 2020 harvest of 8.5 million. Japan is the main destination for chum roe which saw increased prices to $17.83/pound in the third trimester of 2020, up 42% from the previous year.


This year’s pink salmon harvest is pegged at 124.2 million, mostly from catches at Prince William Sound, Southeast and Kodiak. Interestingly, pink salmon have been returning to Norton Sound at record numbers. This summer, the Nome Nugget reports that  Icicle ​Seafoods  plans to bring a processing vessel as well as four or five fishing tenders to buy pinks from local fishermen. Icicle’s headquarters are in Seattle, but the company has roots in Alaska​ processing groundfish, primarily in the Dutch Harbor area and herring in Kodiak and Togiak.


Last year’s statewide pink salmon catch of 60.7 million fetched an average dock price of $.33/pound, the lowest in five years and a drop from $.40 in 2019.    


Other per pound salmon prices to fishermen in 2020 (with 2019 prices in parentheses) averaged $4.74 for Chinook ($4.36); $1.06 for sockeye ($1.61); $1.24 for coho ($1.13); and $.46 for chums ($.54).

Those prices come from the newly released Commercial Operator's Annual Reports (COAR) from Alaska processors who are required to provide purchasing and sales reports for all species by April 1 of the following year. The COAR data can be found at ADF&G’s commercial fisheries web page under Statistics and Data.

Salmon saint – Salmon has its own heavenly patron – Saint Kentigern of Scotland. Born in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his saint-hood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle.


Legend has it that the king suspected his wife of having an affair because she had given one of her rings to a court favorite. The king took the ring when the man was sleeping and threw it far out into the River Clyde. When he returned home, the king angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it.


The queen beseeched Kentigern to help her. He took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river and quickly caught a salmon and cut it open. Amazingly, the ring was found in the salmon’s belly.


The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored.


From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland’s patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day his figure and symbols, including salmon, make up that city’s coat of arms.


So who knows - perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint of salmon will lead more fish to your nets.