What about Cook Inlet salmon that are not sockeye?

In my previous article on the changes in Upper Cook Inlet (UCI) commercial fishing management, I concentrated on the second run of reds into the Kenai River, the tail that wags the Cook Inlet fishing dog.  The entire resource is managed to maximize catch of these fish by the 1,100 commercial permit holders in Cook Inlet.

But when you manage a mixed species fishery, a lot of fish that are not second run reds end up in the commercial nets.  And every single one of these fish are ones that the quarter million sport fish license holders target.  I am not including personal use or subsistence users in this piece as they target for the most part second run reds.

The data comes straight from ADF&G’s commercial fishing web page.  The summary is downloadable as a pdf.  http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/FMR16-14.pdf

Results from 2015 are broken down by species.  I am choosing 2015 rather than 2016 because the sport fish numbers are not yet available.

Sockeye.  The total sockeye run in upper Cook Inlet (UCI) was estimated at 6.1 million fish, or about 8% more than forecast.  The Kasilof return estimate was 1,173,000.  The total commercial catch in UCI was 2.6 million fish.  Sale price was variable but estimated as an average of $1.60 / pound.  Total exvessel value of the salmon harvest was $22.3 million.

Coho.  Total commercial harvest of silvers were 216,032 fish, about 19% under the ten year average.  Sale price for silvers was $0.60 / pound.  Total exvessel value of all coho caught in UCI of $753,078 or about $684 for per permit holder for 196 fish per permit holder on average.

As a comparison, a boat chartered out of the Little Su with four people chasing early morning silvers will run around $600 for 4 people.  Say everyone catches a pair of strapping 10-pound MatSu silvers, or 80 pounds of silver salmon.  The guided trip brings in silvers at $7.50 / pound.  Catch anything under the limit of two a day and that per pound price skyrockets.

Another way to look at it would be that 80 pounds of silvers bring a commercial fishermen a mere $48, or about 8% of the money a guided trip will inject into the local economy.

Pink.  There were 48,004 pinks caught in UCI in 2015.  This was 59% under the six year average of odd year pink salmon runs.  Pinks brought in $0.25 / pound, being sold for $39,197, or about $36 / commercial permit holder for on average 44 pinks apiece.  Imagine what the fishing public could have done if those fish made it into the UCI streams to spawn.

Chum.  There were 275,960 chum caught in 2016, down about 36% from the 50-year average.  Value of chum was $726,696 to commercial fishermen with a per pound price of $0.40, or about $661 per commercial permit holder for 251 chum on average.  Like with the pinks, imagine not only what the fishing public could have done with those fish, but also the positive impact on stream based dolly and rainbow populations.

King.  Final piece of this is the king harvest.  There were 10,798 kings commercially harvested in 2016.  At $2.00 / pound these are more valuable than any other Cook Inlet salmon, but their numbers are miniscule.  Total commercial value to the nearly 11,000 commercially harvested kings was $359,903 or about $327 / commercial permit holder for ten kings on average.

So what do we do with all this?  Take it as a few data points as we consider the next bit of information.

The following chart comes from ADF&G’s Sport Fish and estimate of salmon catches.  It paints the last five years of sport fish estimates for Southcentral Alaska (which includes not only Cook Inlet but everything from Cordova to Dillingham), so the actual UCI sport fish catch is smaller than the listed numbers.

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Sea-run Chinook salmon 57,511 33,348 44,091 43,120 57,811
Sea-run Coho salmon 331,506 211,501 345,105 327,894 422,429
Pink salmon 35,070 60,570 41,973 60,401 60,220
Chum salmon 6,803 7,699 11,039 8,228 7,622


Take a look at the numbers harvested.

Commercial fishermen in UCI harvested about 16% of the total kings harvested in 2015.

Commercial fishermen in UCI harvested about 34% of all silvers harvested in 2015.

Commercial fishermen in UCI harvested about 44% of all pinks harvested in 2015.

Commercial fishermen in UCI harvested a whopping 97% of all chum in the inlet.

And for what?  Another half million dollars in July and August divided by 1,100 commercial permit holders?

It has been almost a decade since anyone has done an economic analysis of what sport fishing brings to the State of Alaska.  The last one was in 2008 by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.  They concluded that sport and personal use fishing in Southcentral Alaska generates annual sales over $561 million (2006 dollars), supports 6,100 average annual jobs, producing $186 million in annual income in the region.  http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/regulations/regprocess/fisheriesboard/pdfs/2007_2008/uci/comment32.pdf

Their final comparison was even more damning.  They concluded that recreational salmon fishing, about 75% of all sport fishing trips, in Upper Cook Inlet generates seven to twelve times as many jobs and six to ten times as much average income in the region as commercial salmon fishing.  The net economic value of salmon fishing by sport fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet is $62 million while commercial permit holders generate a net economic value of only $1 million, which does not even pay costs of ADF&G to manage them.  And commercial fishing efforts in Cook Inlet are the most concentrated in the entire state.

Why again does commfish get priority over everyone else?

Craig Medred did a similar workup on the value of king fishing last year.  He reported a NOAA study that concluded that a tourist would be willing to pay in the $1,945 range for the opportunity to catch a pair of king salmon (the limit).  Commercial value of those two fish is in the neighborhood of $96.  https://craigmedred.news/2016/05/23/the-money-fish/

Clearly it is time for another economic study comparing economic values of sport fishing and commercial fishing in Upper Cook Inlet.

This is still a commonly held resource that constitutionally belongs to all Alaskans.  It is also a resource that can be grown rather than divided via an increasingly bitter process.  The way to grow it is to minimize bycatch (everything caught that is not a second run Kenai or Kasilof sockeye).  One way to minimize bycatch is to turn the commercial fisheries into terminal fisheries managed for equal access by all users.  Another way is to repeal the statewide ban on aquaculture for finfish and start converting the commercial permit holders from hunter – gatherers into ranchers so they can compete on an equal footing with the rest of the world.


Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He is a small business owner and Information Technology professional.

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