Strong year for commercial salmon harvest statewide

Alaska salmon. (Photo: Isaac Wedin, shared via Creative Commons)

Commercial salmon fishermen across the state have had a “banner year.”

Last week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) released a preliminary harvest summary that estimates fishermen caught 224.6 million wild salmon this year and earned $678.8 million selling the fish to processors.

That’s a 66.7% increase from last year’s catch value. According to Forrest Bowers, Deputy Director of ADF&G’s Division of Commercial Fisheries, there are a couple reasons for the jump: fishermen caught more salmon in 2017, and they were paid higher prices for the fish.

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Bowers said Alaska wild salmon is a strong brand in a market that includes farmed salmon from around the world.

“I think Alaska has done a great job with marketing wild salmon,” Bowers said. “Alaska fishermen have made a lot of improvements in their product handling and product quality, and I think processors have taken a number steps to come out with new product forms that appeal to consumers.”

According to the summary, the statewide chum salmon harvest hit an all-time record high this year, and the harvest of sockeye salmon — the most valuable species — exceeded 50 million fish for the third year in a row.

Bowers said these numbers are encouraging.

“I think the main thing that it indicates is that Alaska’s salmon management program is successful,” Bowers said. “You know we have really pristine habitat throughout the state. We’re looking at a long-term approach, so that we can harvest sustainably without impacting future returns in a negative way.”

With strong community support for salmon throughout the state, Bowers is optimistic the good luck will not go away, especially in Western Alaska.

“In Norton Sound, three out of the last four years have been really strong,” Bowers said. We’ve had good fisheries up there, and I expect that trend to continue.”

ADFG will release their final figures for the 2017 harvest next spring.