By Scott Michaels
In Alaska, salmon come first. Alaska has a long and successful
track record of managing and conserving its abundant salmon
resources. Record salmon runs with a recent average annual
catch of 165 million salmon is the proof of this successful
Nearly 95% of all commercially caught salmon in the US are
harvested in Alaska. Alaska is the top producer of wild,
high-value salmon, producing nearly 80 percent of the world
supply of king, sockeye, and coho. Alaska’s commercial salmon
fishery is vital to the Alaskan economy and the Alaskan way of
Each year, the salmon industry provides thousands of jobs and
hundreds of millions of dollars to the state’s economy.
Commercial fishing is critical to communities and fishing
families throughout the state.
Alaska’s fishing industry leads the state in providing 47% of
private sector jobs, and is second only to the oil industry in
providing revenue to the state. In 2002, the exvessel value
combined fisheries totaled $955 million with $162 million from
Salmon fishing permits are issued to individuals, not
corporations, through the “limited entry permit system”. The
total number of available permits for each fishery is strictly
limited. Fishermen may not own more than one salmon permit for
the same gear type and area. This creates a fishery made up of
many individuals and families.
Three main gear types catch Alaska salmon: trolling,
gillnetting, and purse seining. All commercial salmon fishing
boats are relatively small vessels; averaging 30 to 50 feet.
Trollers use long trolling poles to pull or troll 2 to 4 deep
weighted lines through the water, each with 8 – 12 leaders
attached. At the end of each leader there is a lure or baited
hook. Boat size varies from small skiffs to vessels of 50 feet
or more with most ranging between 25 to 40 feet.
Trollers primarily target king, coho, and pink salmon as they
enter Alaskan waters on their way to the spawning grounds.
Trollers catch a relatively low volume of high-quality fish.
The fish they catch are bright and vigorous from fresh ocean
waters. They are often
sold dressed, or filleted in the fresh or fresh frozen market.
Gillnetters set curtain-like nets in the water suspended from
float line at the surface and a weighted lead line along the
submerged bottom edge. Nets vary in length from 900 to 1800
feet long. The net’s mesh openings are just large enough to
allow an adult fish head to get through and become entangled
There are two types of gillnets; driftnets that are free
floating from boats, and setnets that have one end attached to
the shoreline. Boat size is limited to 32 feet or less in
Bristol Bay; otherwise, the average range is 30 to 40 feet.
Gillnetters primarily harvest sockeye, chum and coho.
Purse Seiners use a large floating net, pulled and set in
circle by a power skiff, to surround schooling salmon. The
weighted “purse line” at bottom of the net is drawn closed to
contain the fish. The net full of fish is then gathered to the
boat through a highpowered hydraulic block.
Purse seiners are not allowed north of the Alaska Peninsula;
boat size is limited to 58 feet. Purse Seiners harvest mainly
pink salmon near the shoreline and close to fresh water
spawning grounds where runs are highly concentrated.
About The Author: Alaska fishing legend is home to salmon runs
so thick you can walk across their backs, halibut so big
they're called barn doors, and bottom fish so plentiful,
fishing for them is called "catching".