Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

Commercial Salmon Fisheries of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region: Economic Challenges and Opportunities

Gunnar Knapp


Abstract.—This paper provides an overview of Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) commercial salmon fisheries, reviews economicvariables affecting the fisheries, and discusses the challenge of increasing the economic benefits from these fisheries. During the years 2004–2006, AYK fisheries accounted for about 1% of total Alaska harvest volume and 2% of total Alaska harvest value. AYK fisheries accounted for 18% of total Alaska permit holdings and 14% of permits fished, but only 1.6% of total earnings. AYK commercial salmon fisheries have faced significant challenges over the past two decades. Harvest volumes fell sharply from the late 1980s to 2002. By 2007, total harvest volume in five of the six AYK fisheries had recovered somewhat from the low levels of the early 2000s, but remained well below the levels of the late 1980s. Prices fell during the 1990s, most importantly because of the growth of salmon farming, which dramatically increased world salmon supply and reduced the market share of Alaska wild salmon. Currently, prices for AYK coho Onchorhynchus kisutch and chum salmon O. keta remain far below levels of the 1980s, while prices for the Chinook salmon O. tshawyscha fisheries are comparable to levels of the late 1980s. Other challenges have included a steep decline in the number of buyers, and a dramatic increase in fuel prices in the late 2000s. AYK wild salmon producers also face new opportunities in world markets to market wild salmon not as a commodity but as a specialty product. Some AYK salmon runs, such as Yukon River Chinook and chum salmon, have unusually high oil content, which have given them reputations as among the best-tasting salmon in the world. To reduce costs and increase value for AYK salmon fisheries, a need exists for (a) implementing improvements in the quality and consistency of salmon products by improvements in how fish are handled at every stage of harvesting, processing, and transportation; (b) sustained investments in marketing; and (c) investments in infrastructure, ranging from ice machines to airport runways, to reduce costs and improve quality.