Jason Caudill (foreground) works with Karl Kristian Clapp and Jimmy Cook aboard the seiner Laguna Star, preparing for the first Kodiak commercial salmon fishing opening in 2013. (Flickr photo/James Brooks)

A recently-published 10 year study estimates the value of what the Tongass and Chugach National Forests contribute to Alaska’s commercial salmon industry — and the numbers are sizeable.

The study is called Quantifying the Monetary Value of Alaska National Forests to Commercial Pacific Salmon Fisheries (Volume 39, Issue No. 6, December 2019). Published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, the article attributes 25-percent of the state’s salmon harvest — worth $88 million — to the Tongass and the Chugach, the country’s first- and second-largest national forests respectively.

Note: Laine Welch’s Alaska Fish Radio is sponsored by Ocean Beauty Seafoods and the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. You can learn more about this story online at alaskafishradio.com.

By Laine Welch

Researchers excluded salmon born outside the forests’ lakes, rivers and streams such as the Canadian portions of the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers, and also state, private and Native owned lands. They also did not include hatchery fish.

The results showed that from 2007 to 2016 the two forests contributed 48 million salmon on average each year to commercial fisheries, with a dockside value averaging $88 million. These “forest fish” represented 25% of Alaska’s total salmon catch for the time period and 16% of the total commercial value. 

For the Tongass, the most lucrative “forest fish” was pink salmon averaging $42 million to fishermen each year. Cohos came next, averaging nearly $15 million and chums at almost $9 million.

For the Chugach, the priciest returns came from sockeye salmon which produced $10.5 million in local catches on average. Pinks were next, averaging $6.2 million.

The study said it underestimates the value of salmon produced by the forests, as it only takes into account commercial harvests, not recreational or subsistence, uses. It also counts only dockside value, and not the economic impacts of local fish processing.

The 10 year project was funded by the U.S. Forest service which is interested in estimating the different activities and services that national forests provide.

At a time when forests are under threat of timber harvests, mining, more roads and development, the researchers hope their findings can be used to better inform forest management.