PINK SALMON WERE JUMPING in the harbor as purse seiners and drift gillnet boats streamed out of Juneau’s Auke Bay last night for a short net-fishing opening. It was easy to wonder if I was witnessing the end of an era.

Due in part to oversupply and overwhelming competition from factory fish farmers, commercial salmon fishers across the state of Alaska are being paid all-time low prices for their catches. And other factors—such as an environmental lawsuit seeking an outright ban on the state’s king salmon troll fishery—are causing many captains to reconsider whether fishing remains a viable means of supporting their families.

Osprey tied up at Float D, in Auke Bay’s Slatter Harbor, adjacent to the freezer-equipped troller Searcher

Although a federal appeals court earlier this month granted trollers an at-least-temporary reprieve—issuing a stay on a lower court’s order that would have closed the king salmon fishery indefinitely—the skipper of the big freezer-equipped troller Searcher, tied up next to Osprey, told me the price being offered for his top-quality kings is so low he can’t afford to sell his catch.

It’s complicated.

Craig Medred, dean of Alaska outdoor writers, argues (I think simplistically) that the decline of the state’s once-booming salmon industry can be boiled down to one word: “Greed.” Citing a 2007 World Wildlife Federation report, Medred says the successes of Alaska salmon fishing 40 years ago—“the now unbelievable price of $7.39 per pound being paid for salmon at the start of the 1980s”—persuaded Norwegian entrepreneurs to invest heavily in fish farming. In the early 1980s, Medred writes, salmon farming was “a two-bit business with high production costs.” But by 2021, “farmed salmon accounted for 79.7 percent of global salmon production, and the trend toward farmed salmon and away from wild salmon is continuing as the farmers become ever more efficient.”

Bad prices and changing industry economics aside, however, Auke Bay was full of fishing boats this week, preparing for the four-day opening:

Gillnetters on Float D


Two gillnetters, a purse seiner, and a luxury yacht


An old (maybe older than me) but still active salmon troller



The 87-foot Marine Protector Class Coast Guard Cutter Reef Shark. Before being assigned to Juneau, the ship was responsible for the seizure of millions of dollars worth of drugs, in the Caribbean