2013 is turning out to be a banner year for salmon in Southeast Alaska. This year’s staggering salmon returns are a reminder the Tongass is the country’s preeminent salmon forest. As Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell tours Southeast Alaska this week, I urge him to do all he can to ensure the nation’s largest national forest is managed with wild salmon as the highest priority.
As of today, more than a whopping 92 million salmon weighing almost 283 million pounds have been landed in Southeast this year. The vast majority of this year’s enormous salmon haul is wild pinks — close to 99 percent of which were born and reared in Tongass watersheds. Southeast fishermen have already surpassed the record 77 million pinks that were caught in 1999. Returns of wild sockeye and coho have also been extremely strong. In almost 35 years of fishing, our family has never caught as many wild sockeye as we did this year.
Prices for Alaska salmon remain quite good, as well. Although we won’t have the average 2013 ex-vessel value numbers for a while, it’s safe to say Southeast is on target to have its most lucrative commercial salmon season yet. In the last two years, Southeast was the most valuable commercial salmon fishing region in the state, with the total ex-vessel value exceeding $200 million in 2011.
I point out these numbers because they underscore how Tongass salmon drive an enormous economic engine and underpin every community in this region. Salmon produced in Tongass streams and lakes sustain hundreds of commercial fishing families like mine. It’s estimated more than one in 10 regional jobs are tied to salmon. These fish are a cultural icon, a focus of recreational and subsistence fishing, a mainstay of our diet, and a keystone species.