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With season opening, Alaska forecasts a significantly smaller salmon harvest in 2024

Written by Nathan Stout and Published by Seafood Source, March 17, 2024

Alaska's 2024 salmon season officially opened on Thursday, 16 May, with the kickoff of the Copper River sockeye fishery.

The 2024 commercial harvest forecasts for the Copper River District, located in the Prince William Sound region, are 1.3 million sockeye salmon, 46 percent above the 10-year average of 893,000 fish, and 47,000 Chinook, which is 2 percent below the 10-year average of 48,000 fish. However, the inside closure area of the Chinook fishery will be closed during early season fishing periods for conservation purposes and may be expanded early in the season to include waters inside the barrier islands east of Coffee Creek, according to Alaska Fish News.

The day was also marked by the announcement from Silver Bay Seafoods that it will pay a base price of USD 0.80 (EUR 0.74) per pound for unchilled sockeye salmon caught in Bristol Bay and USD 1.10 (EUR 1.01) per pound for chilled Bristol Bay sockeye, plus a bonus for bled fish.

Salmon leaping from the water in AlaskaSalmon leaping from the water in Alaska

Photo from BlueBarronPhoto/Shutterstock appears in the original article

In 2023, base prices for Bristol Bay salmon weren't announced until July, and the season sported some of the lowest prices in recent times at an average of USD 0.52 (EUR 0.48) per pound, according to data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"We are clearly optimistic about the Alaska salmon industry; Silver Bay has expanded our programs statewide," Silver Bay Seafoods CEO Cora Campbell told National Fisherman. "The seafood industry has faced challenges before, and as an industry, we have proven ourselves to be resilient and innovative. At the end of the day, our industry is about harvesting and processing a natural, wild, healthy protein that feeds the world. Looking forward, we believe that core-value proposition will overcome any short-term economic or market conditions."

The latest forecast from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts the 2024 commercial salmon harvest in the U.S. state will bring in nearly 136 million salmon, a significant drop from the surge of fish harvested in 2023.

Commercial harvesters brought in just over 232 million salmon across all species in 2023, which was 43 million – or 23 percent – more than the preseason forecast of 189 million fish. Pink salmon made up more than half of the 2023 catch, with 155 million fish harvested. Sockeye was the next top species, with 52 million fish harvested.

However, the department is predicting a decrease in the overall salmon catch for the 2024 season, primarily due to a much smaller pink salmon harvest. The government report indicates that there will be nearly 86 million fewer pink salmon harvested in 2024, with just 69 million in the forecast. The report also predicts 40 million sockeye, 24 million chum, and 3 million coho salmon will be harvested in Alaska in 2024.

The report notes that “there is a great deal of uncertainty in forecasting pink salmon returns” due to their short lifespan and other factors.

Despite the massive harvest in 2023, the Alaska seafood sector has been roiled by low prices and demand. Several major processing plants have been closed or sold over the last several months as processors consolidate operations. Most notably, Silver Bay is set to take over Peter Pan Seafood’s Alaska business and is already operating some of its facilities for the 2024 season.

Alaska lawmakers voted to establish a Seafood Industry Task Force this month to address those concerns and many others, as the state’s seafood sector faces these multiple crises.

“Alaska’s seafood industry is in a tailspin from facing unprecedented challenges,” the legislation’s sponsors wrote when introducing the task force earlier this year, according to the Alaska Beacon. “Alaskan fishermen, processors, processing workers, and support businesses are challenged with extremely low prices, plant sales and closures, lost markets, credit concerns, and foregone fishing opportunities. The hit to Alaska’s economy in 2023 alone is estimated to be USD 2 billion [EUR 1.8 billion].”

The eight-member group will recommend policy changes to the legislature that will help the commercial fishing industry.

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  • Nathan Strout
    published this page in In the News 2024-05-24 11:18:20 -0700