The pink salmon run was a bad one this year, not just for Kodiak, but for the entire Gulf of Alaska.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist, James Jackson, says on a good year they’d catch an average of 15 million pinks. He says last year they caught 30 million pink salmon, while this year, they caught a mere 3 million for the entire island.
“It was about the weakest pink salmon run that we’ve had in the Kodiak area since the ‘70s, which says a lot because in the ‘70s it was pretty bad, so we were closed for the majority of the island for pretty much half of the pink salmon run, and the areas that were open we didn’t catch a lot.”
Jackson says the source of the problem could be pegged to conditions near shore or further out in the ocean.
“The fact that all the wild stocks and hatchery stocks all had severely reduced runs kind of speaks more to ocean conditions than it does freshwater conditions. We didn’t have the greatest escapement in 2014, which is the parent year for this, for the wild stocks, but it was okay, it was nothing we usually don’t have, so we should have been able to have a halfway decent return.”
He says the bad run caught Fish and Game by surprise, as surely it did many fishermen.
“You’ve got lots of different fisheries really in Kodiak, but the pink salmon run is where most of the fishermen make the majority of their money and, in some years, it makes upwards of 50 or 60 sometimes 70 percent of your total harvest value, and it is a pretty big blow to fishermen this year.”
Local government and legislators are trying to alleviate the situation for fishermen, cannery workers, and their families.
Representative Louise Stutes has introduced two possible solutions. One is to reach out to the federal government.
“By declaring pink salmon a disaster, it will allow for these workers, even if it’s a minimum amount of federal relief, it will help them pay their bills next month, it will help them make their rent payment, and it’s critical.”
Stutes says that initiative is currently before the governor and lieutenant governor.
Another of her efforts to ease the stress of the economic shortfall is to allow fishermen with loans from the state to waive a payment until the end of their loan period. Stutes says she is investigating a blanket waiver of this year’s loans and a simplification of the application process, which involves extensive paperwork.
The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly, meanwhile, has added a resolution to its regular meeting agenda to support Stutes’ efforts. That meeting is set for Thursday night.