A first ever, 10 year study gives estimates of the numbers and values of what the Tongass and Chugach National Forests contribute to Alaska’s commercial salmon industry.

The Tongass is the largest national forest in the U.S. at nearly 27,000 square miles and covers most of Southeast Alaska.

The adjacent Chugach at half the size ranks as the nation’s second largest forest and covers the Copper River delta, Prince William Sound, and part of the Kenai Peninsula.

Researchers excluded salmon born outside the forests’ lakes, rivers and streams such as the Canadian portions of the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers, and also state, private and Native owned lands. They also did not include hatchery fish.

The results showed that from 2007 to 2016 the two forests contributed 48 million salmon on average each year to commercial fisheries, with a dockside value averaging $88 million. These “forest fish” represented 25% of Alaska’s total salmon catch for the time period and 16% of the total commercial value.

For the Tongass, the most lucrative “forest fish” was pink salmon averaging $42 million to fishermen each year. Cohos came next, averaging nearly $15 million and chums at almost $9 million.

For the Chugach, the priciest returns came from sockeye salmon which produced $10.5 million in local catches on average. Pinks were next, averaging $6.2 million.

The study said it underestimates the value of salmon produced by the forests, as it only takes into account commercial harvests, not recreational or subsistence, uses. It also counts only dockside value, and not the economic impacts of local fish processing.

The 10 year project was funded by the U.S. Forest service which is interested in estimating the different activities and services that national forests provide.

It proves beyond a doubt that the Tongass and Chugach provide a lot of forest salmon.

At a time when forests are under threat of timber harvests, mining, more roads and development, the researchers hope their findings can be used to better inform forest management.

The study is called Quantifying the Monetary Value of Alaska National Forests to Commercial Pacific Salmon Fisheries. It was recently published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management.