Sockeye salmon are the most economically important salmon in Alaska. More pink salmon are caught, but sockeye salmon are a higher quality fish and sell for a much higher price.
The largest harvest of sockeye salmon in the world occurs in the Bristol Bay area of southwestern Alaska where 10 million to more than 30 million sockeye salmon may be caught each year during a short, intensive fishery lasting only a few weeks. Relatively large harvests of one million to six million sockeye salmon are also taken in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, and Chignik Lagoon. All commercial Pacific salmon fisheries in Alaska are under a limited entry system which restricts the number of vessels allowed to participate. Most sockeye salmon are harvested with gillnets either drifted from a vessel or set with one end on the shore, some are captured with purse seines, and a relatively small number are caught with troll gear in the southeastern portion of the state.
Subsistence users harvest sockeye salmon in many areas of the state. The greatest subsistence harvest of sockeye salmon probably occurs in the Bristol Bay area where participants use set gillnets. In other areas of the state, sockeye salmon may be taken for subsistence use in fishwheels. Most of the subsistence harvest consists of prespawning sockeye salmon, but a relatively small number of postspawning sockeye salmon are also taken.
There is also a growing sport fishery for sockeye salmon throughout the state. Probably the best known sport fisheries with the greatest participation occur during the return of sockeye salmon to the Kenai River and one of its tributaries the Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula. Other popular areas include the Kasilof River on the Kenai Peninsula as well as the various river systems within Bristol Bay and Kodiak Island. Sockeye are highly prized by sport anglers for their tenacious fighting ability as well as food quality.
Personal Use Fishery
Personal use fisheries have also been established to make use of any sockeye salmon surplus to spawning needs, subsistence uses, and commercial and sport harvests. Personal use fisheries have occurred in Bristol Bay, where participants use set gillnets, as well as in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, where participants also use dip nets.
In the summer, there are many opportunities to view spawning sockeye salmon in the wild, providing a boon to Alaska’s growing tourism industry.
Sockeye salmon are the preferred species for canning due to the rich orange-red color of their flesh. Today, however, more than half of the sockeye salmon catch is sold frozen rather than canned. Canned sockeye salmon is marketed primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States while most frozen sockeye salmon is purchased by Japan. Sockeye salmon roe is also valuable. It is salted and marketed in Japan.