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Commercial Salmon Net Record High Values Across Norton Sound

Chum salmon. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Commercial salmon values were at record highs across Norton Sound this summer.

As the commercial harvest season comes to an end, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Jim Menard says strong chum and silver runs drove record-breaking revenue in the region.

“In the last five years, the commercial harvest in the chum salmon fishery has been the best in 25 years,” he says. “Then you combine that run that we’ve had with the commercial fishing on top of this year’s silver salmon run. This is the fourth greatest commercial harvest we’ve ever had in the silver run for Norton Sound.”

And with regional buyers like Norton Sound Seafood Products paying between one and two dollars per silver, Menard says this year is likely to be one of the highest grossing for fishermen in the region.

“This year’s going to be a record payment to Norton Sound fishermen of over $1.5 million. In four of the last five years we’ve gone over $1 million in payments for the fishermen,” says Menard.

This comes in stark contrast to just twelve years ago, in 2002–a year that Menard describes as one of the worst on record.

“That was the absolute bottom,” he says. “We only had 12 permits fished that year. That’s how low things were. They made under $3,000. Now this year, we had over 120 permits fished. So it’s become much more [a] driver of economics and helping out the villages. It was just wonderful to see all that.”

Contributing to the recent success of fishing operations in the region: A glut of buyers.

Menard cites the fishery in Kotzebue as an example. Twelve years ago, there were no local buyers for commercial salmon in the region. The market dried up as fish populations decreased. And even though the salmon eventually returned, buyers have been slow to do the same.

But this year, the Kotzebue commercial fishery had a total of three local buyers–driving up the value of salmon in the region. Commercial fishermen brought in an estimated $3 million dollars this year, making 2014 the second-greatest commercial run on record–falling just short of the $3.25 million dollar record set in 1981.

Still, Menard hesitates to point to this year’s outstanding chum and silver runs as a “new normal” for the region.

“Things tend to go up and down,” he says. “Of course, we don’t expect fishing to be as good next year, but we don’t see it crashing either. So we are definitely on the rebound here in Norton Sound. And things are going really well.”

While one great season doesn’t guarantee continued success, Menard is hopeful that this season represents an ongoing trend for salmon fishing in the Norton Sound-Kotzebue region.