One hundred years ago, the sheer size of king salmon, both in terms of biomass and individual fish, provoked the type of astonishment you see on the face of this child. The annual returns of king salmon to the Columbia River alone regularly topped 10 million fish. To give that some context, in 2017, Alaskan fishermen, participating in the North Pacific’s largest king salmon fishery, were limited to harvesting a few hundred thousand fish.
Flash Forward 70 years. In 1983, current Sitka Salmon Shares Captain, John Skeele, shows off a monster 60-pound king salmon in Port Alexander, Alaska. Between these two photos, the world of king salmon had been turned upside down. Americans had dammed the West’s great rivers, logged its great forests, and developed its great cities. These human actions had a profound influence on these mighty fish, drastically diminishing their populations. And yet: king salmon still swam in enough abundance to let traditional commercial fishermen like Skeele to catch ones like you see.
Flash Forward 35 more. In 2017, Alaskan fisheries managers worried enough about king salmon abundance that they unexpectedly cut their season short. In 2018, the forecasts look even more dire, with fisheries managers questioning whether its wise to proceed even with a small king salmon fishery. Scientists are concerned that ocean and climatic conditions these last few years, including warmer water temperatures and poor snowpack in the American West, have decimated juvenile king salmon populations and are now worried about the viability of the population.
At Sitka Salmon Shares, our fishermen love to catch king salmon and our members love to eat king salmon. At the same time, we are also dedicated to the project of fishing (and eating) not just for the present but for the future. We want to see these fish provoke the same kind of astonishment as they did in years past.
In 2018, Sitka Salmon Shares is following fishing the lead of our fisheries managers and acting more conservatively with our king salmon harvest that we ever have. In 2018, you’ll find between 20 and 25% less king salmon in our community supported fishery (CSF) shares. There’s also a reasonable chance that Alaska does not have a king salmon fishery in 2018. If that turns out to be the case, we plan to work with our members to offer alternatives that will include substitutions of other fish or refunds. For more questions about the king salmon fishery, please contact Chief Fishmonger, Nic Mink, at nic@sitkasalmonshares.com