Alaska Fresh Salmon

Dr. Andrew Weil

“If you want Wild Salmon or Alaska Fresh Seafood, you can order it online from one of my favorite sources, Vital Choice Seafood.”
The following is an excerpt from a letter we received from Dr. Weil after spending time with him touring SE Alaska:
“… One never knows whether a business is doing right to serve a market, or out of conviction. After spending time together in close quarters, talking, fishing, sharing meals, and getting to know one another, I was pleased to see that the integrity of your business is a reflection of your own personal commitment to ‘right livelihood’ and your concern for the precious and pristine nature of the region.”
“It is now even clearer to me that you take great care in selecting your products and partners, to ensure the highest standards of culinary quality, nutritional value, and environmental sustainability.”
Best regards,
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Dr. Weil is the author of several NYT bestsellers, including The Healthy Kitchen, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, Spontaneous Healing, Women’s Health, Natural Remedies, and Healthy Aging
 

Hometown fisherman lands $50,000 salmon

SEWARD, Alaska, Aug. 19 (UPI) — A hometown angler caught a $50,000-tagged salmon in the Seward, Alaska, Silver Salmon Derby.

Michael Rogers, 64, landed one of a handful of tagged fish Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

“I’ve been fishing this derby since it started pretty much, since I was a little kid. I’ve won quite a few prizes, but this is the first major one,” Rogers told the Daily News in a telephone interview.

Rogers said things weren’t going his way at first, but then he changed things up and started catching salmon.

When he returned to derby headquarters, Rogers said he was told one fish could be worth anywhere from $100 to $50,000.

“I had to sit in the derby office for a while and fill out paperwork, and finally they handed me an envelope,” Rogers said. “All the women in there sat around me with and had pictures taken with me and then they said, ‘OK, you can open it now.’ And there was another envelope inside that one. So then I opened that one up and it says $50,000. It was quite a shock.”

The Daily News said it was the second time in the derby’s 57-year history that a $50,000 tagged fish was caught. The first one was caused in 2003.

The feistiest salmon

The dictionary that hides in my Mac says “feisty” means “having or showing exuberance and strong determination.” That’s a fitting description of the chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta), the feistiest of the five species of Pacific salmon in Alaskan waters.

My first run-in with a chum came in the late 1960s, on a creek on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska. I was casting spinners with a light spinning outfit, and catching fat, sea-run Dolly Vardens one after another, when something much bigger grabbed my spinner and headed for someplace else at great speed. Just short of taking all my line, it turned and ran back, stopping a few feet in front of me. While I reeled in 30 or 40 yards of slack line, the fish broached and glared at me. Just as I realized it was a large chum salmon, it spit out my spinner, sneered and swam away.

There’s no mistaking an adult chum salmon that’s nearing its spawning stream. The olive-green back and the maroon stripes on its flank were a giveaway. As a kid in Washington state, I’d seen rotting, spawned out chums along the Skagit River, but this was the first live one I’d had the pleasure of meeting. This encounter left me with a newfound respect for chums.

   Chums are scarce in the Kenai. I was starting to wish they weren’t. 

A trip to the Kamishak River, a glacier-fed river in Katmai National Park,convinced me that chums were vastly underrated. About half the size of the Kenai River, the Kamishak winds its way through miles of roadless wilderness. Getting there wasn’t easy. A guide and I boarded a float plane at Rainbow River Lodge near Iliamna, flew to the Kamishak’s estuary, climbed into an outboard jet-powered skiff and ran up the winding river several miles. We stopped at a gravel bar where we were all alone, except for the bear across the river. The guide handed me an 8-weight fly rod rigged with a fly that would’ve choked a king salmon and said, “Fish.”

On my first cast, I hooked into something that took off like a sockeye on steroids. It was a chum, the guide said, chuckling as I struggled to reel in the fish, which was maybe a seven-pounder. That fish wouldn’t come in! Even when I had finally pulled it into shallow water to release it, it remained upright, refusing to roll over onto its side. It’s jaws were clamped as tight as a two-year-old child refusing a spoonful of mashed peas.

Without even getting my feet wet, and casting no more than 20 feet, I hooked and landed five or six more of those fierce fighters before calling “uncle.”

My limited experience with chum salmon has been fishing for them with weighted flies, letting the fly swing with the current. Seeing a chum fly for the first time, you wonder what you’ve signed up for. Chums go for flies that look like something you’d throw at a tuna or tarpon, big, gaudy gizmos, articulated and lead-eyed, 4 or 5 inches long, in wild colors — pink, cerise and chartreuse.

You might “play” other salmon, but you “fight” chums, and they hit hard. If you’re armed with an 8-weight outfit, an average sized chum will have you longing for a 10- or 12-weight. Most chums in Cook Inlet waters likely weigh between 7 and 12 pounds, but they get larger. The Alaska state – record, caught in Southeast, is a 32-pounder. Scary thought, wading around with something that big, toothy and aggressive.

Chums may not take to the air as much as silvers, but they make up for it with their eagerness to bite and their never-give-up doggedness. What I like best about them is their attitude. Something about a chum’s bearing says, “What are you doing on my river?”

 

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

Cruise Sets Sail to Count Fish Off Alaska

A group of researchers has embarked on the first comprehensive study of marine life in the eastern Chukchi Sea near Alaska. Their findings will be used by the Department of the Interior to help decide whether to grant future leases for offshore oil exploration and drilling in the region, and to regulate transportation and future fishing.

“We are going up there to look at the oceanography, plankton, fish and crab in the region,” said Michael Sigler, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s fisheries service in Alaska.

Establishing a baseline

Little baseline data has been collected in the region, which is currently little-trafficked and fished due to its remoteness and its ice-choked waters. As ice cover throughout the Arctic decreases, however, these pursuits are likely to increase.

Although surveys have been conducted in both the Beaufort and Chukchi seas since 1959, U.S. fishery research in the Arctic has been infrequent and limited in scope, according to a statement from NOAA. A similarly comprehensive survey of the northern Bering Sea was not conducted until 2010. [Images: Creatures of the Bering Sea]

The new study is primarily meant to gather data for scientists and to avoid negative impacts of oil exploration in the region, Sigler told OurAmazingPlanet. (Royal Dutch Shell has been granted a lease to drill exploratory wells in the area, and the company hopes to begin in the next few weeks, according to the Reuters news service.)

Shellfish and marine mammals are more prevalent there than farther south, and indigenous Alaskans have long subsisted on seals and bowhead whales that live in the area, Sigler said. To the south, in the Bering Sea, is one of the nation’s largest fisheries, he said.

The scientists will look at many aspects of the Arctic marine food web, from the chemistry of the ocean water to the health of plankton in the region. They will collect data about what’s living there, how old the animals are and how they’re doing, Sigler said.

All the fish in the sea

One of the more important fish they will study is the Arctic cod, which is a primary food for ringed seals, which in turn are a favorite meal for polar bears.

Two fishing vessels are being used in the survey, the first of which set sail Aug. 6 from Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The research cruise will last until Sep. 27. Scientists will deploy nets at the surface, at midlevel depth and at sea bottom to collect specimens of fish and shellfish, Sigler said. Acoustic instruments will be used to see how many fish are in the sea.

One focus of the research will be upon the biology of salmon, saffron cod, snow crab and capelin (a small fish), which serve as food for seabirds, sea mammals, and rural coastal communities.

Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We’re also on Facebook and Google+.

Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

50 Pound Salmon


August 15, 2012

J.W. Secrest, a commercial fisherman in Alaska, stopped in at the Sweetwater Dairy Queen to share his catch – a 50 pound King salmon (half grown) – with the morning coffee drinkers on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
J.W., who winters in Fisher County, caught the salmon in Kenai, Alaska. He catches 60 to 13,000 pounds of salmon a year, which includes all five species.
Last year, J.W. also managed to catch an 800 pound shark with a 900 ft long by 15 foot deep net.

Eagle River trail closed as bears go fishing for salmon

“The salmon are back and there are bears in the area,” said Tom Harrison, Chugach State Park superintendent.

The closure does not affect other trails accessed from the center, including the Iditarod/Crow Pass Trail, the Rodak Loop and viewing platforms, or the Dew Mound Trail, he said.

The park closes the Albert Loop Trail every year in late summer. Black and brown bears and their cubs are drawn to the area by the arrival of spawning salmon and the convenience provided by human infrastructure. The State Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation said the bears use bridges on the trail as fishing platforms. They use nearby beaver dams for the same purpose. Adjacent brush and trees supply cover for the bears lurking in the area.

There have been no bear-human incidents reported in the Albert Loop vicinity. “There’s been a lot of sign,” Harrison said. “But so far no abnormal behavior that we know of, either on the part of people or bears.”

Signs indicating closure are posted and gates across the trail will be closed. The Albert Loop Trail is expected to remain closed until the arrival of winter sends bears into hibernation.

For those looking for a comparably easy trail out of the Eagle River Nature Center, Harrison suggested the Dew Mound trail as “a nice alternative.”

Harrison also said that a portion of the Hillside trail system between the Upper Huffman and Glen Alps trail heads had reopened after being closed earlier this year.

“There was a bear sitting on a moose kill for a while,” he said, but the bear and its food are no longer a threat.

Park officials caution that, even on apparently bear-free trails in Alaska, people should take precautions. “Be prepared to encounter a bear and be knowledgeable in recognizing bear behavior and responding to an encounter,” the Parks and Recreation Division said.


Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com.

Republicans Say EPA Digging in Too Soon on Alaska Copper Mine

Congressional Republicans are lining up against the possibility of the Environmental Protection Agency blocking what would be North America’s largest open pit mine in a region of Alaska that supports some of the richest wild salmon runs in the world.

The top investigator for the science committee in the House of Representatives, Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun, wrote the EPA last week and said its study of the proposed Pebble mine in the Bristol Bay region fell short and shouldn’t be used to block development. That follows the claims of California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, the House oversight chairman, and Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan that the EPA doesn’t have the authority to preemptively veto permits for the mine.

Supporters of Pebble and politicians in Alaska and Washington, D.C., say they’re worried that the EPA will use its study to shut down the possibility of the massive copper and gold mine even before mine officials submit plans for approval and permit applications. Opponents of the mine are urging the EPA to act. The hotly debated study, which the agency calls a draft assessment, found that even if such a mine operated smoothly up to 87 miles of rivers or streams would be lost or blocked, as could thousands of acres of wetlands that are vital fish habitat.

The EPA, while saying it has the authority to block the plans even before the developers apply for permits, says it’s made no decision to try to stop the mine.

Associate EPA Administrator Arvin Ganesan said congressional Republicans were fretting about a “hypothetical,” and the federal study isn’t a finished product.

He recently wrote members of Congress that the agency did the Bristol Bay study to understand the effects of large-scale mining on water quality and fishery resources. “We are conducting the assessment to inform future decision making,” Ganesan wrote.

A group of independent scientists who are reviewing the quality of the EPA’s study held meetings in Anchorage last week. At least some have suggested that the study needs more work; their recommendations are due in the fall.

The proposed Pebble mine is one of the most controversial development prospects in the history of Alaska. The Bristol Bay region produces about half the wild sockeye salmon worldwide, with an annual commercial harvest of 27.5 million over the past decade.

The Pebble prospect appears to be a unique case for the EPA. The agency, when asked repeatedly this week, provided no other examples in which it’s conducted a similar assessment of a mining prospect before the plans for the mine have been submitted.

The EPA did the study after being petitioned by tribal groups and Bristol Bay Native Corp., which says the risk is too great and wants the agency to stop the mine.

More than 200,000 people submitted written comments on the assessment and roughly 90 percent supported the agency’s findings, according to the EPA.

Pebble advocates argue that mining and fishing can coexist in the Bristol Bay area and that the project would bring badly needed jobs. The Pebble Partnership, the group behind the Pebble mine project, has called the deposit one of the largest of its kind in the world, with the potential of producing 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum – which is used to make stainless steel – over the next three decades.

Pebble and its supporters told the EPA that the study was rushed and flawed. The Pebble Partnership, which hasn’t yet submitted its development plan, said the EPA assessment was based on a hypothetical mine that won’t happen instead of its actual plans.

The EPA made it clear in a letter to Congress that it has the authority to veto Pebble mine discharges if it chooses to do so. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has the power under the Clean Water Act to veto discharges that she finds would have an “unacceptable adverse effect” on fisheries, including spawning areas, according to the agency. It said that could happen before a mine applied for the necessary dredging and filling permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Those are fighting words for Republicans in Congress, who’ve made the EPA a target on a range of issues.

Issa called the EPA’s argument an “unprecedented and legally questionable interpretation of the Clean Water Act.” Broun followed that up with his letter to the EPA.

“These are serious concerns. If EPA ultimately uses this watershed assessment as justification to pre-emptively veto mining permits in Bristol Bay – not withstanding EPA’s legal authority to do so – the scientific credibility of the assessment will need to be beyond reproach,” Broun wrote. “This is obviously not the case.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation – including its lone Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich – also is against the EPA moving quickly to stop the mine.

“I remain opposed to any pre-emptive decision on the Pebble mine. While the project needs to meet a high hurdle – protecting the world’s largest and most valuable salmon run – developers should be allowed to present their project and it should succeed or fail on its merits,” Begich said in a statement.

Alaska editorial: Salmon mysteries

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

A chum salmon just can’t replace a king salmon. But in a year when the king salmon barely showed up, it’s encouraging to see healthy chum runs in the Yukon River system this summer.

The abundance of chums should provide for people along the rivers who rely upon salmon for a good portion of their food during the winter months. We shouldn’t see a repeat of the disastrous years in the 1990s, when the chum runs crashed and people in the villages couldn’t even keep their dog teams fed.

There’s a reason chums are called dog salmon. Traditionally, kings have been the preferred salmon for people, while chums have provided for the dogs. However, chum salmon are usable in a pinch. So having lots of them is a good backup in a year such as this when the kings were so scarce.

According to figures from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the king run in the Yukon is winding down and probably will total only about 109,000 fish.

Meanwhile, the summer chum run was closing on 2 million. The fall chum run also is coming in strong, with about 1.3 million expected.

Since almost all the kings have passed upriver, subsistence fishing for chums is wide open on most of the Yukon. It remains closed only in the upper stretch, from the Fort Yukon area to the border, to let as many kings as possible reach spawning grounds in Canada.

The failure of the king run can’t be smoothed over with chums. Commercial fishing for kings was shut down this year. That will create hardship — the commercial king fishery provides cash, especially on the lower Yukon. And even the most devoted followers of today’s subsistence lifestyle must have cash for everything from guns to gasoline.

The chum runs are making up some of the loss. Commercial fishermen in the lower and middle Yukon caught a total of about 315,000 summer chums. Another 150,000 fall chums had been taken in the commercial fishery as of Sunday, and fishing will continue if the run remains strong.

But, at just 75 cents per pound, the chum price isn’t near what a king could bring. The fall chums are mixed with coho salmon, which are bringing $1 per pound but aren’t as numerous.

The poor king salmon returns on the Yukon system remain a mystery. And why are chum runs at the same time relatively healthy? Whatever the reason for the contrast, it is a welcome one this summer.

Pebble fight is over federal control, not resources

To pull it off, the EPA has cobbled together a hasty, broad draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed that now is under review by a scientific peer panel. The rushed assessment encompasses 20,000 square miles — the combined size of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut and New Jersey, with an extra Rhode Island or so left over. It took barely a year.

The agency called it “An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska.” It focused on the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers’ watersheds, the largest of the region’s six major river basins. Given the vast area and the truncated time frame, it more properly could have been called, “CliffsNotes on the Bristol Bay Thingy.”

The rich Pebble prospect at the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers’ intersection potentially could produce 81 billion pounds of copper, 107 million ounces of gold and 6 billion pounds of molybdenum — and be a huge economic engine for the region. Opponents counter it would threaten the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. Bristol Bay’s commercial salmon industry generates about $300 million a year and more than 11,000 jobs.

The study — more a transparent justification to jump the gun on the state’s permitting process than a scientific evaluation — clearly is aimed at the proposed Pebble Mine. But — surprise! — there is no mine. No detailed plans for a mine. No state or federal applications for a mine. No request for EPA permission for a mine. Despite that, and using who-knows-what for information, the EPA concluded large-scale mining in Southwest Alaska may — or may not — harm Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon habitat. How it came to its conclusions with no current plans or permits to work from is anybody’s guess.

We can argue, of course, about the streams or the fish or the outcomes, but the reality seems to be that the EPA, prodded along by anti-development, fisheries and Native interests, appears ready and willing — if not straining at the bit — to use its ginned up “study” to justify a political decision to derail a state process before it begins. You have to wonder why.

Applying for mining permits to build a large project in Alaska, after all, is no walk in the park. It is a complicated, grinding, expensive proposition that involves more than two dozen state and federal agencies. It is not something a company or consortium takes on as a lark. Given that Alaska’s process is rigorous and thorough, why would the EPA be jumping out front to kill Pebble before the state even receives a permit application?

Why not let Alaska do its job? Why not recognize Alaska’s right to deal with its resources under its constitution? Simple. The anti-Pebble forces cannot gamble on mine proponents prevailing in a fair, open process. They are hoping the EPA will do their dirty work.

Make no mistake, the EPA has authority under the Clean Water Act of 1972 to get involved. Section 404(c) of the act authorizes the “EPA to restrict, prohibit, deny, or withdraw the use of an area as a disposal site for dredged or fill material if the discharge will have unacceptable adverse effects on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas, wildlife, or recreational areas.”

The really bad news? The agency can “prohibit or otherwise restrict the specification of a site under Section 404(c) with regard to any existing or potential disposal site before a permit application has been submitted to or approved by the Corps or a state.”

Thankfully, the agency rarely uses its 404(c) authority, but Pebble proponents see the EPA effort in Bristol Bay as the first step in that direction.

That would be terrible for Alaska. Nobody wants Bristol Bay trashed. Nobody wants fisheries harmed. Certainly no Alaskan. But, beyond biological impacts, there is a key political question that must be answered: Why should the EPA be able to overrule a project even before a state permitting process can begin — or the first application is made?

Why not let Alaska’s process take its course? Is it payback to special interests? Green craziness? Latte overload?

It smacks of bureaucratic bullying, but that cannot be it.

Right?


Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.

Congressional GOP members fear EPA will halt Pebble early

The top investigator for the science committee in the U.S. House, Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun, wrote to EPA this week to say that its recent study of the effect of such a large mine in the area falls short and shouldn’t be used to block development.

The EPA says it has made no decision to try to stop Pebble, but that hasn’t prevented Republicans from challenging the EPA’s authority to act even before Pebble applies for mining permits.

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, the House oversight committee chairman, and Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, say the EPA doesn’t have authority to pre-emptively veto permits for the Pebble mine.

Supporters of Pebble and politicians in Alaska and Washington, D.C., say they’re worried the EPA will use its study to foreclose development of the massive copper and gold mine even before it submits its plans for approval and applies for permits.

Opponents of the mine are urging EPA to act.

The hotly debated study, which the agency calls a draft assessment, found that even if such a mine operated smoothly, up to 87 miles of rivers or streams would be lost or blocked, as could thousands of acres of wetlands vital as fish habitat.

EPA, while insisting it has the authority to block the plans even before the Pebble developers apply for permits, says it has made no decision to try to stop the mine.

Associate EPA Administrator Arvin Ganesan said congressional Republicans are fretting about a “hypothetical,” and the federal study isn’t a finished product.

“The EPA has initiated a watershed assessment in the Bristol Bay to better understand the potential effects of large-scale mining on the Bay’s water quality and valuable fishery resources… We are conducting the assessment to inform future decision-making,” Ganesan wrote in a recent letter to members of Congress.

A group of independent scientists are currently reviewing the quality of the EPA’s study and held meetings in Anchorage this week. At least some have suggested the study needs more work and their recommendations are scheduled to come out in the fall.

The proposed Pebble mine is one of the most controversial development prospects in the history of Alaska. The area has streams that feed world class runs of red salmon, king salmon and rainbow trout.

The Pebble prospect appears to be a unique case for the EPA.

The agency, when asked repeatedly this week, provided no other examples in which the agency conducted a similar assessment of a mining prospect before plans for the mine have been submitted.

EPA did the study after being petitioned by tribal groups and Bristol Bay Native Corp., which say the risk is too great and want the agency to stop the mine.

More than 200,000 people submitted written comments on the assessment and roughly 90 percent supported the agency’s findings, according to the EPA.

Pebble advocates argue that mining and fishing can co-exist in the Bristol Bay area and that the project would bring badly needed jobs. The Pebble Partnership, the group behind the Pebble mine project, has called the deposit one of the largest of its kind in the world, with the potential of producing 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum over about three decades.

Pebble and its supporters told the EPA that the study was rushed and flawed. The Pebble Limited Partnership hasn’t yet submitted its development plan. It says the EPA assessment was based on a hypothetical mine that won’t happen instead of its actual plans.

EPA made clear in a letter to Congress that it has the authority to act. Administrator Lisa Jackson has power under the Clean Water Act to veto discharges she finds would have an “unacceptable adverse effect” on fisheries, including spawning areas, according to the agency. It said that can happen before a mine applies for its needed dredging and filling permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Those are fighting words for Republicans in Congress, who have made EPA the target on a range of issues.

Issa called it an “unprecedented and legally questionable interpretation of the Clean Water Act.” Broun followed that up with his letter to the EPA this week.

“These are serious concerns. If EPA ultimately uses this watershed assessment as justification to preemptively veto mining permits in Bristol Bay — notwithstanding EPA’s legal authority to do so — the scientific credibility of the assessment will need to be beyond reproach,” Brown wrote. “This is obviously not the case…”

Alaska’s congressional delegation, including its lone Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich, is also against the EPA moving quickly to put a stop to the Pebble mine.

“I remain opposed to any pre-emptive decision on the Pebble mine. While the project needs to meet a high hurdle — protecting the world’s largest and most valuable salmon run — developers should be allowed to present their project and it should succeed or fail on its merits,” Begich said in a written statement.


Email: scockerham@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @seancockerham

In praise of pinks

(Author’s note: With humpback salmon now running in the Kenai River, this is a good time to run this story in the Clarion. It first appeared in Alaska magazine in August 2001. It has been edited for brevity.) 

When someone says the fish are so thick, you can walk across the river on their backs, they’re probably talking about pink salmon.

Besides being by far the most numerous of the five species of Pacific salmon in Alaskan waters, pinks have other qualities that should set an angler’s heart to pounding. They can be caught almost anywhere along Alaska’s coast, in streams and in saltwater. They will usually take most any lure. On light tackle, they fight like trophy trout. When caught in prime condition, they are as fine a fish as ever graced a plate.

Yet, in some places, this Rodney Dangerfield of the salmon tribe gets no respect.

Stream anglers targeting trout and other salmon species tire of pulling in pinks.

The part of sport-fishing lore that says “bigger is better” works against pinks. The smallest of the Pacific salmon, they average only 3.5 to 4 pounds.

And there’s the physical part. As pinks near spawning time, they change dramatically. Their backs turn from metallic blue-green to olive-drab. Their silvery sides become blotchy white. The males’ jaws hook, and a hump forms on their backs — the reason pinks are called “humpbacks” and “humpies.”  After they spend a few days in fresh water, some people shun them.

Others, however, hold pinks in high regard. Natives all along Alaska’s coast eat pink salmon. Matt Kookesh, a Tlingit who has lived in the Southeast village of Angoon most of his life, says they are a Tlingit delicacy. The first humpy of the season, in early July, is a welcome sight, he says.

“Humpies are usually boiled with potatoes, onions and seaweed, which is added later,” Kookesh says. “Humpies caught before they hit fresh water make the best smoke strips.

“Humpies with the humps are prized by elders. They make a wonderful fish stew. The fresh water humpies are dried and smoked for a fish delicacy. Fresh water-caught humpies preserve better because most of the oil is gone.”

If you badmouth humpies around Sterling residents Jean and Dillon Kimple, you’ll get an earful.

“Humpies are our favorite!” says Jean.

The couple spent eight summers commercial fishing at Spiridon Bay, Kodiak Island.

“We had our choice of any kind of salmon, but we chose humpies,” Jean says. “I would cut alongside the pin bones, so there were no bones. I dipped the pieces in batter and deep-fried them.”

Last year, when an estimated 5 million pinks swarmed up the Kenai River, there were times when it was difficult to cast a lure — any lure — without hooking one. Almost anywhere else, this would be cause for celebration. On the Kenai, it was cause for groans: “Oh, no! Not another humpy!”

Not everyone groaned. Jeff King is a humpy booster, and proud of it.

“I fish for ‘em,” says this Kenai River guide. “My customers have a lot of fun with ‘em, fishing with light tackle.”

Some of King’s customers have had mounts made of prize pinks.

“One of my customers from Las Vegas was on a rogue humpy hunt one year. He’s got this collection of fish from everywhere, right?  He’s got like 300 fish mounted, five or six Kenai kings. He came up here one year just to catch the biggest, gnarliest humpy he could find. We had a lot of fun with that.”

An 8-pounder is a huge pink. The state record, a monster caught in 1974 at the mouth of the Moose River by Steven Alan Lee, weighed 12 pounds, 9 ounces.

The pink’s two-year life cycle is the cause of an interesting phenomenon. Because the odd-year and even-year populations are essentially unrelated, one or the other usually dominates. In the Kenai, the strong runs occur in even-numbered years, as in 2000.  In odd-numbered years, few pinks return to the Kenai.

No account of humpies would be complete without mention of Ketchikan artist, fishhead and punster Ray Troll. His appreciation for pinks is obvious in his art, as evinced in “Shocking Pinks,” “Humpies from Hell” and “Don’t Worry, Be Humpy.” 

I first met Troll about 10 years ago, when he showed his work at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. He was sitting at a table, signing copies of his book, “Shocking Fish Tales.” I got in line with a bunch of other fish-art fans, and when my turn came, I introduced myself as a fellow fishhead and pun connoisseur. He laughed and signed my book.

Some time later, I noticed that Troll had sketched a salmon above his signature. Not just any old salmon, either, but an honest-to-cod humpy.  

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.