Alaskan fishery resources have been harvested for thousands of years. Today, these fish and shellfish are still essential food sources for many Alaskan Natives. The salmon, which return to Alaskan streams each year, have become the basis for one of the most important and most profitable Alaskan fisheries. The biological basis of the Alaskan salmon fishery includes five species. These salmon are the Sockeye or red salmon, pink salmon, coho or silver salmon, dog or chum salmon, and the chinook or king salmon. The sociological, political, and economic aspects of the Alaskan salmon fisheries affect management practices. If managed efficiently, these salmon fisheries will be able to provide bountiful stocks for years to come. If these fisheries are managed inefficiently, then we may see the decline, or even extinction of these species.
U.S. interest in Alaskan fishery resources grew after its purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Commercial salmon fishing in Alaska quickly began, and in 1878, the first cannery was opened at Klawock Creek on Prince of Wales Island. The number of plants on Alaska's 300 mile Southeast Coast grew from 2 in 1978 to 20 by the 1900s, 50 by 1915, and nearly 80 by 1920. Until Alaska received its statehood, the U.S. government had jurisdiction over the fisheries. During this time, most of the catch was caught in large fish traps. In 1924, the White Act was passed, which required the closing of the salmon fishery after the midpoint of the runs. Unfortunately, the federal government, due to lack of funds and ineffective enforcement, was unable to regulate these fisheries. It was not until after World War II that requests were made for an analysis of the salmon and their management in Alaska. These requests were made by the salmon processing industry. After becoming a state in 1959, Alaska took management control of its fishery resources from the U.S. federal government. In fact, the primary incentive of the statehood movement was to take control of its fisheries. Alaska's constitution actually has an entire section devoted to the management of natural resources. In 1977, the federal and state roles in fishery management changed again. After the 1976 creation of the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which was brought about by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA), Alaskan fisheries have been managed by both federal and state agencies. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is the main federal fisheries management agency, and is mostly in charge of the Alaskan groundfish industries. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), which takes direction from the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF), is the main state fisheries management agency, and currently, is primarily responsible for the management of the herring, crab, and salmon fisheries.
The fate of the salmon fishing industry in Alaska is dependant on many things. Weather changes, pollution, and over-fishing are just some of the causes of fluctuating salmon populations. Stock declines not only impact commercial fisheries but can also have devastating effects on Alaska's native peoples who are dependant on fishing as a way of life. Since the beginning of the Alaskan salmon fishery, the main goal has been to sustain the fishery for future generations. With new techniques such as using salmon hatcheries, we are now able to produce large yields of fish without much effort. So far the signs are pointing toward a successful fishery.