Alaska’s 2021 salmon season officially starts on Monday, May 17, with a 12-hour opener for reds and kings at the Copper River.

All eyes will be on early Cordova dock prices for Alaska’s famous “first fresh salmon of the season” as an indicator of wild salmon markets. Covid-forced closures in 2020 of high-end restaurants and seafood outlets tanked starting prices to $3 per pound for sockeyes and $6.50 for king salmon, down from $10 and $14, respectively the previous year.

But early signs are looking good.

Heading into Mother’s Day on May 9, demand for seafood was “fanatic” said Mitch Miller, vice president of national upscale seafood restaurants Ocean Prime in Nation’s Restaurant News.

National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said there is a lot more consumer optimism this year as more people are getting vaccinated and stimulus checks are being distributed, and friends and family are moving about more freely.

Alaska’s 2021 salmon harvest is projected to top 190 million fish, a 61 percent increase over the 2020 catch. The break down includes 46.6 million sockeye salmon, 3.8 million cohos, 15.3 million chum salmon, 296,000 kings and 124.2 million pinks.

Elsewhere on the fishing grounds, Alaska’s biggest herring fishery at Togiak kicked off on May 3 with two buyers and about a dozen boats on the grounds. They have a roughly 85 million-pound quota, the largest since 1993.
Herring fishing continued around Kodiak for a nearly 16 million-pound catch, the largest ever.

Sitka’s roe herring fishery this spring produced less than half of its 67 million pound quota, taken by 18 of 47 permit holders.

Southeast Alaska’s summer pot shrimp fishery opens on May 15 with a 40,000-pound catch limit. Southeast divers are still going down for a half-million pound geoduck clam quota. A lingcod fishery opens on May 16.

A 10-day pot shrimp window opens at Prince William Sound on May 10 with nearly 60 boats vying for a 70,000-pound catch.

Kodiak’s Dungeness fishery opened on May 1. So far, a fleet of about 15 boats is dropping pots around Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. Last year’s Dungie catch of nearly 3 million pounds was the region’s best in three decades.

Bering Sea crabbers are pulling up the last of their 40.5 million-pound snow crab quota. Crabbers also are wrapping up the season’s Tanner crab and golden king crab fisheries.

Alaska’s halibut catch is nearing 3 million pounds with Seward, Juneau and Homer the leading ports for landings. Alaska halibut fishermen have a nearly 20 million-pound catch limit this year.

Blackcod (sablefish) catches have topped 7 million pounds with most going to Sitka, Seward and Kodiak. That fishing limit this year is 40.5 million pounds.

And as always, fishing continues throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for a huge mix of Alaska pollock, cod, flounders and more.

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Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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