Commercial salmon catches of pink salmon in Alaska soared past the old record of 161 million humpies set in 2005, moving to upwards of 185 million humpies by Aug. 20 and still climbing.
“There’s something about the Alaska salmon business,” said Ocean Beauty Seafoods’ spokesman Tom Sunderland. “It’s different every year and this year, this is the surprise. We are doing all we can to deal with this volume of fish, which is surprising and unprecedented.”
The sheer volume, said Vince O’Shea, vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association, “has put stress on the whole system, but it’s a great problem to have.”
O’Shea said PSPA members Westward Seafoods, Alaska Pacific Seafoods and Trident Seafoods are working around the clock at their Kodiak Island facilities. “We have one shot at these fish,” he said. “The fish don’t wait.”
The deluge of humpies left Kodiak with a shortage of refrigerated containers, and O’Shea said while he was there in mid-August some 300 more refrigerated containers arrived on a barge.
Trident Seafoods spokesman John van Amerongen said Trident’s primary focus has been to move as much high quality fish through its plants as possible, while maintaining the quality customers expect and keeping the fishermen fishing.
Trident’s two primary pink salmon processing plants at Cordova and Ketchikan will pack record levels of canned salmon this year, he said. In addition to traditional canned salmon, Trident’s Cordova plant will do a significant volume of skinless-boneless canned pink salmon, he said. Trident has also brought in two very large floating processors to focus on frozen pinks, plus two pollock catcher processors that are producing various frozen pink product forms, and Trident is using several vessels from its shore-based trawl fleet as specialized salmon tenders.
Meanwhile, the humpies just keep coming, and there should be a couple more good weeks of fishing, said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the Alaska Division of Commercial Fisheries. “I think we are past the peak, but I think it will have some pretty good tail on it,” he said.
The overall preliminary commercial salmon harvest total in Alaska to date is 234,011,000 fish, including the 185,229,000 humpies, 29,048,000 sockeye, 16,638,000 chum, 2,793,000 coho and 303,000 Chinook salmon.