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Chum salmon returned home to Alaska this year in numbers never seen before from Southeast to Kotzebue, and set catch records statewide and in many regions.

Chums, also called dogs because of their long use as a prime food source for Alaska Native dog teams, are the most widely distributed of all Pacific salmon and can be found throughout Alaska. The species usually comprises about 15 percent of the total salmon catch, and this year’s tally of almost 25 million is the biggest harvest since 2000.

At Kodiak, for example, a chum catch of nearly 2 million was 37 percent higher than usual and the highest take since 1995. Southeast Alaska’s chum catch topped 11 million, and at an average price of $.80 a pound, each fish was worth more than $7 to fishermen.

Chums also helped push Norton Sound salmon fishermen to a record $2.8 million pay day, the first time the dock value has topped $2 million. At Kotzebue, two buyers showed up for the first time in three years and flew off with a half million pound chum salmon catch. And at the Yukon, fishermen harvested over one million chums for a fishery value of nearly $700,000.

“It’s a great year to have a record catch. The market for Alaska chums could not be better,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group.

“Some years you have a situation where there is not enough demand to soak up all that you produce and prices come down. We might see a little price affect because it’s a record year, but factors coming into this season were really supportive for chums,” he added.

Topmost, the harvest in Japan, one of the largest chum producers, was down 30 percent in a run of several years’ bad catches. There is no backlog of fish is in U.S. cold storages, and higher priced farmed salmon has buyers looking for other options. Wink said wild chum salmon from Alaska, often marketed with the more upscale name of “keta,” fits the bill.

“Those high farmed prices raised the bar for everything else and it gets more people interested in doing something with keta, and it also benefits from all the sockeye promotions,” he said, adding that several big supermarket chains are doing a “salmon series.”

“They will do promotions all season long and go from sockeye to chum to coho salmon,” he said. “That makes for a really nice progression.”

The chum roe market also is ripe.

Chum roe is the most valuable of all salmon and Japan’s harvest shortfall will boost demand for Alaskan supply. Wholesale prices for all salmon roe skyrocketed during the first four months of this year, according to Alaska Department of Revenue data. For chum roe, the price averaged $20.03 per pound up from $15.44 at the same time last year.

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Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She has also worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and Cape Cod. Click here to send her an email.

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