Recent economic news puts spotlight on salmon economics in Cook Inlet

Two recent reports provide a snapshot of the state’s salmon fisheries, in terms of economic values, employment and losses due to this year’s poor king salmon returns. Economic information on fisheries is gathered by a variety of state and national sources, and provides an important basis for understanding and managing Alaska’s fishery resources.

In regards to the poor king salmon returns across the state, Alaska’s Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell released a revised estimate of the economic losses stemming from closures to important subsistence, sport and commercial fisheries. In Cook Inlet, the estimates losses from sport and commercial fisheries closures due to poor king returns are pegged at $33 million, with $17 million in sport losses and $16 million in commercial losses.

The state estimates a loss of close to 30,000 angler days for guided and unguided sport fishing in fresh and saltwater, which would have resulted in $10.4 million of direct spending and $7.3 million in indirect spending. For Upper Cook Inlet commercial fisheries, the east side set netters saw a 90% reduction in revenues, with a season total of $1.1 million, down from the five year average $10.9 million. In the northern district, set netters saw a 50% drop in harvest value, with $250,566 in ex-vessel value down from the five year average of $460,193.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) 2012 Upper Cook Inlet Commercial Salmon Fishery Season Summary, this year’s commercial harvest of four million salmon ranks as the ninth largest in the past twenty years. The estimated ex-vessel was $34.2 million, the eleventh highest since 1960, and the third highest ex-vessel in the past ten years. Sockeye salmon comprised 93 percent of the value of the UCI commercial fishery in 2012.

Due to the low king salmon abundance, restrictions and closures of the east side set net fishery shifted harvest of sockeye salmon to the drift fleet, which harvested 93 percent of the sockeye return this year, up from a historical average of 55 percent. Preliminary data for the total commercial catch of salmon in Upper Cook Inlet indicates 3.95 million in 2012, which is just slightly under the ten year average of 3.98 million from 2002 – 2011.

The Kenai River had a sockeye run return of 4.47 million, 11 percent higher than the forecast, which helped offset poor returns of Northern District sockeye. ADFG notes that the final passage estimate at the mile 19 sonar counter for sockeye salmon was 1.58 million, which exceeded the upper end of the in-river goal of 1.35 million. However, ADFG points out that after accounting for sport harvest upstream of sonar, the final estimated escapement will likely be within the optimal escapement goal (OEG) range of 700,000 to 1.4 million fish and near the upper end of the sustainable escapement goal (SEG) range of 700,000 to 1.2 million fish.