Encompassing more than 660,000 square miles, Alaskan salmon and steelhead greatly outnumber the state’s human citizens.
Alaska is home to more healthy populations of wild fish than Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California combined. Owing largely to the state’s low population density and some enlightened resources management, Alaska supports a commercial fishing sector valued at $5.8 billion dollars. Salmon make up a huge portion of Alaska’s commercial fisheries and during the last decade an average of 742 million pounds of salmon were landed every year.
Steelhead in the state are limited to areas south of the Aleutian Peninsula with the majority of fish returning in the late spring from April to early June. There are however a few summer run populations in Southeast Alaska and not unlike their relatives in Kamchatka many of the larger river systems also support fall runs of fish which over winter in freshwater prior to spawning in spring.
In general Alaskan steelhead are doing pretty well, particularly when compared to wild steelhead in the Lower 48. Like BC, Alaska has statewide catch and release regulations in place for wild steelhead. With much of the habitat in relatively good condition, and very little harvest on steelhead in the state populations are arguably the healthiest in the world outside of Kamchatka. That’s not to say everything is perfect.
In Southeast Alaska the Tongass National Forest encompasses more than 17.5 million acres of temperate rainforest and is home to countless populations of wild salmon and steelhead. It also includes some of the greatest tracts of old growth rainforest remaining in North America. During the next ten years 12% of the remaining old growth in Tongass is slated for harvest, prompting significant concern from local residents, fisherman and conservation groups.
Despite these threats, Alaska’s preeminence as a wild fish producer is unlikely to be challenged during the next century. As climate change and growing human populations in the Lower 48 continue to threaten southern populations, it has never been more important to protect Alaska as a stronghold for the wild salmon and steelhead which serve as the foundation for Alaska’s economy and culture as well as the coastal ecosystem.