Strong pink salmon run a boon for Bellingham Cold Storage

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 9, 2013 

Pink salmon at Bellingham Cold Storage

Jeff Haedike of Bellingham sorts pink salmon at Bellingham Cold Storage on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 in Bellingham.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - This year's pink salmon run is looking good, both locally and regionally.

Business is going strong at Bellingham Cold Storage, which helps process, pack and ship salmon throughout the season.

"I'm not sure exactly how it stacks up compared to previous years yet, but there's a substantial amount of fish out there," said Doug Thomas, CEO and president of Bellingham Cold Storage. "It seems like the biomass is very healthy."

The company hires hundreds of laborers to work shifts around the clock throughout August and September, generally the busiest time of year. As of last week it had 250 workers on hand and was looking for about 25 more people, Thomas said.

Bellingham Cold Storage has received hundreds of thousands of pounds of salmon each day in recent days.

"We're all hands on deck right now," Thomas said. "We've produced and sold more ice than ever before - well over a half million pounds of flake ice each day."

Thomas attributes strong runs over the last dozen years to the Pacific Salmon Commission. It recommends limits on salmon runs in the North Pacific and dictates how much escapement - the number of fish allowed to escape the fishery and spawn - is needed, with the goal of maintaining strong harvests for both Canada and the U.S.

"There was a week or two this season where no fishing was allowed, so ample amounts (of salmon) could return and spawn so we'll have future fisheries in two years," Thomas said.

The commission increased the Fraser River pink salmon run size estimate from 16 million to 24 million at a meeting Sept. 3. As of Aug. 29, the run was about 50 percent complete, according to the commission. Actual numbers won't be available until the end of the run in a few weeks.

If the pink run in Southeast Alaska is any indication, Washington could be expecting its strongest year. Bellingham fisherman Jim Zuanich, who has been fishing in Alaska for more than 40 years, said this year was the best he's ever seen for pink salmon.

On his boat, Marshal Tito, Zuanich pulled in 1.2 million pounds of pinks this season.

"That wasn't outstanding," he said. "There were boats that had over 2 million pounds."

The price fisherman got per pound for pink salmon this season was reasonable, at 42 cents in Alaska, Zuanich said. Pink salmon are generally the cheapest per pound as they are the most abundant of all Pacific salmon.

"The only year I caught a few more pounds, it was at 7 cents, and that was less than 10 years ago," he said.

In talking with local fishers, Zuanich said the word is Washington's smaller and shorter fishery is also strong this year.

"They had no sockeye season whatsoever, and that normally is the real money fishery here," he said. "But the pink salmon here, both Fraser River and various Washington stock, have been very good."

In Washington - the southern range of the North Pacific pink salmon run - more fish return in odd-numbered years, according to fishwatch.gov, a site maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.

In 2009, fishermen in Washington state brought in 17 million pounds of pink salmon, while in 2010 the harvest was only 12,000 pounds, according to the site.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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