For years folks have been asking me, “Do you notice a steady decline in your fishing out of the Lodge the way it seems to be everywhere else?” And my answer is always an emphatic: “No!” Then I go into the reasons why.
Now, those of you who know me well are accustomed to the positive way I approach things, especially fishing. After all, if you are a fisherman it’s just part of your DNA, right? I mean, what’s the point in going fishing if you take the negative view that you won’t catch anything. That’s just not who we fishermen are! And I know full well that some folks roll their eyes and expect ol’ Cap’n Mac to put an upbeat spin on it because he has a vested interest in people thinking that they are going to catch something. Fair enough. I get that.
But when a statistical report comes out that verifies my viewpoint that our Alaska fishing, especially salmon fishing, is not declining the way it is in other areas, my reaction is, “Yesss! Told ya so!”
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has issued such a report for 2013. It deals mostly with the commercial sector but touches on the recreational fisheries as well. It takes almost a year to put the data together, and some of it is still preliminary, especially for the recreational sector, which takes even longer to correlate. But the trend is unmistakable.
For the commercial fisheries, Alaska claimed the nation’s top three fishing ports for seafood landings last year, and wild salmon landings, of which 95% are from Alaska, topped 1 billion pounds, an all-time record and a 70 percent increase from 2012.
In our area, Southeast Alaska, commercial fishermen hauled in more salmon than any other region, larger than Prince William Sound, which has huge catches of Pinks, and larger than the fabled runs of Bristol Bay. And in the list of top 50 commercial ports in the nation, not just Alaska now, the nation, Ketchikan ranked number 10, above Sitka (#15), above Petersburg (#16), above Seward (#20), above Valdez (#24) above Kenai (#38), and above Juneau (#41). Cool.
While it is nice to have a NOAA report to back you up, I base my opinion of better fishing over the years purely on our experience. As you have probably heard me say, when we first came to Alaska 31 years ago, in our area you couldn’t buy a Lingcod, or a Yelloweye. Pinks were always plentiful but Coho were hit and miss because they spend almost the first half of their life in their natal streams and are very vulnerable to stream conditions, which can vary greatly year-to-year depending upon whether droughts (yes, we have them) or monsoons dominate the weather patterns. The recent decades of private aquaculture operations such as the huge facility at nearby Neets Bay http://ssraa.org/ have contributed heavily to our consistent runs of big, fat and sassy coho that start showing up in early August and continue on through late September, and even into October. These rascals put on a pound a week as they mature through the season. (Where have you heard that before…) And those big, bright, iridescent, feisty Chums that SSRAA is kicking out by the thousands – those suckers were non-existent in years past.
King Salmon are a big variable as everyone knows, and in the early years at the Lodge, there were definitely more liberal limits in force, but that didn’t necessarily translate into greater catch numbers. The NOAA report shows an increase in King catches in the last few years, and 2014 predictions were way up. At the Lodge our 2014 King catch numbers were up and so was the size, some of the biggest we have seen in fifteen years. That relates to healthy ocean conditions and good feeding grounds.
Halibut may be the one downer that I can’t say is better than the early days at the Lodge. Hugely political as many of you have heard me talk about. But in addition to the politics, scientists point to a “decadal cycle” in halibut abundance, an historical ten-year up and down trend that we hit the bottom of a year or so ago. There’s a lot going on that should help us get a larger share of the halibut pie in the future, but we are going to have to buy it – from the commercial guys. But that’s a whole ‘nother story. More about that in a future blurb.
In the meantime…enjoy the holiday seasons and the possibility of great new things for our country. Y’all take care of one another! See you next summer.