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Commercial salmon fishing in lower Cook Inlet faced market troubles

Kachemak Bay from Land's End Beach. Lower Cook Inlet saw high numbers of salmon caught but still struggled with poor market value.
Jamie Diep
Kachemak Bay from Land's End Beach. Lower Cook Inlet saw high numbers of salmon caught but still struggled with poor market value.

Salmon fishing numbers skyrocketed this year in the Lower Cook Inlet, but the fishing market still made things challenging for people in the industry.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported over three million salmon caught commercially in the region this year, which is more than four times the amount caught last year. Pink salmon made up the majority of the fish, and was more than six times the amount caught last year, exceeding all ten year averages in the region. The Tutka Bay Lagoon hatchery had an especially robust year, with roughly 2.5 million pink salmon harvested that exceeded preseason projections.

However, the value of those fish tell a different story.

Glenn Hollowell, The department’s area management biologist for the Lower Cook Inlet said that the market value for salmon dropped far below preseason estimates.

“It's been a very good year, in terms of the number of fish coming back,” he said, “however, due to global economic markets, as they relate to salmon, prices have been well below their 10 year average. Consequently, your average permit holder has made half or even less of the 10 year average, which is very unusual.”

Even though this year’s commercial harvest outnumbers the year before by nearly half a million fish, this year’s commercial harvest value is $1.6 million, which is two thirds of last year’s value.

Fisheries also fell short of the $4.6 million cost recovery goal for a second year in a row, making approximately $2.6 million.

The global fishing market drove many of these shortfalls, affecting processors like OBI Seafoods.

Wholesalers that typically purchased fish ahead of sales waited until their numbers were secured. As a company that runs on borrowed money, that meant paying additional interest while handling additional costs to store the fish.

OBI Seafoods fleet manager Bob Nathanson said rising costs from paying competitive wages to fishers were met with resistance from wholesalers.

“The buyers just tell us a flat, ‘no, we will not pay more. We cannot pay more,’” he said, “and now they've slowed their purchases, not just refusing to accommodate any base price increase. “

The poor market prices left OBI with few choices. Towards the end of August, they decided to cut the salmon season short in Lower Cook Inlet. A few days later, they did the same in Prince William Sound.

“We would have either had to drop the price or discontinue processing, and we felt like the price was already pretty low and fishermen were not happy with the price already,” Nathanson said, “we understood that, and so instead we elected to cease buying.”

Hollowell said there may be small changes to numbers from the department, and that the annual management report typically released in the spring will have finalized data.

Jamie Diep is a reporter/host for KBBI from Portland, Oregon. They joined KBBI right after getting a degree in music and Anthropology from the University of Oregon. They’ve built a strong passion for public radio through their work with OPB in Portland and the Here I Stand Project in Taipei, Taiwan.Jamie covers everything related to Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, and they’re particularly interested in education and environmental reporting. You can reach them at to send story ideas.