Now that we’ve clicked over to 2010, let’s review the Top 10 Alaska fish stories from the past decade.
Salmon depression: Global fish farmers and low prices ravage the state’s wild salmon industry. Fishermen quit and canneries close as the total harvest value hits bottom in 2002 at $163 million. The value has more than doubled since.
Tragedy: All 15 crewmen lost in the Arctic Rose sinking … seven hands lost in the Katmai sinking … five lost in the Alaska Ranger sinking … three killed in the Galaxy explosion and fire. A deadly decade indeed.
Crab rationalization: Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fisheries convert from intense derbies to individual shares for fishermen as well as packing companies. Crabber deaths are now rare, but controversy continues over the new regime.
Court rulings: The U.S. Supreme Court disappoints thousands of fishermen plaintiffs in 2008 by cutting a multibillion-dollar award to $507.5 million for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In 2003, Bristol Bay salmon processors easily beat price-fixing allegations after an epic, four-month civil trial in Anchorage.
Politics: U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, author of the nation’s most important ocean fishing laws, loses his re-election bid in 2008 after a corruption conviction that later was tossed. Bristol Bay salmon setnetter Sarah Palin becomes governor then moves on to national celebrity as a vice presidential candidate.
Village power: The state’s six Community Development Quota organizations quietly build big fishing businesses, rural jobs and mountains of cash.
Endangered species: The state’s billion-dollar bottomfish industry undergoes a tumultuous management makeover to create more space between fishing boats and endangered Steller sea lions.
Halibut wars: Conflict escalates between the commercial and charter boat fleets as regulators flounder for a resolution.
Fish sticks: The nation’s largest commercial fishery, Bering Sea pollock, sees annual catches boom to almost 1.5 million tons early in the decade, then bust to roughly half that amount last year.
We love Sig: For better or worse, the Discovery Channel reality show “Deadliest Catch” probably does more to expose the world to Alaska commercial fishing than anything ever has or ever will.