Bountiful Alaska salmon harvest forecast for 2011

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Sun Mar 6, 2011 5:29pm EST

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The 2011 Alaska commercial salmon harvest is forecast to be one of the largest since statehood -- but that doesn't mean prices will be coming down any time soon, a state fish and game official said on Sunday.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts that 203 million fish will be caught this year, the fifth largest haul since statehood, thanks to a combination of good environmental conditions over the past few years as well as careful management by the state.

The harvest of pink salmon, the cheapest and most plentiful of the five varieties of Alaska salmon, will be especially large, totaling 133.7 million fish, according to the forecast.

The commercial pink salmon catch is expected to be 25 percent higher than the 2010 total.

The commercial catch of high-priced sockeye salmon, also called red salmon, is expected to total 45 million fish, an 11 percent increase over the 2010 sockeye harvest, according to the forecast.

"Probably the biggest influence of all is general conditions in the ocean for providing food, and those seem to have been favorable," Geron Bruce, deputy director of commercial fisheries for the department, told Reuters.

But an abundance of Alaska salmon does not necessarily translate to lower prices, Bruce said.

Prices depend on international market forces, including general economic conditions and production from competing salmon suppliers, he said. He noted that the 2010 Alaska salmon harvest was large and, at the same time, fetched high prices.

"Cheap prices, I don't know about that. The salmon market's pretty strong," he said. Overall, Bruce said he's expecting another good year again for Alaska fishermen.

The 2011 forecast does not include complete projections for catches of high-priced Chinook salmon, also referred to as kings.

Information needed to complete those projections depends on terms yet to be set by the international Pacific Salmon Commission.

The total Alaska commercial Chinook salmon catch statewide in 2010 was 378,000 fish, according to the department.

The record commercial salmon catch was in 2005, with 221.9 million salmon harvested commercially, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game records.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb)

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