For many engaged in fisheries, it’s been a challenging year, as confirmed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s new report that the statewide commercial salmon harvest came in 31 percent below the preseason forecast.
While many salmon fisheries are still underway, prospects for that harvest to approach that preseason forecast of 147 million fish are not likely.
As of Aug. 28, the preliminary harvest estimates for Prince William Sound stood at 27.8 million salmon, up from 26 million salmon a week earlier, including 22.8 million pink, 3.4 million chum, 1.3 million sockeye, 236,000 coho and 7,000 kings. The statewide commercial harvest meanwhile rose by 5 million salmon, ADF&G data showed.
Most of the shortfall has come in the form of poor pink salmon returns to streams and rivers flowing from the Gulf of Alaska, where the pink salmon harvest is approximately half the preseason forecast amount, ADF&G confirmed on Aug. 23 in its preliminary review of the commercial season. As of Aug. 28, the preliminary statewide harvest count was 105,266,000 fish, including 49.5 million sockeyes, 38 million humpies, 15 million chum, 2.3 million coho and 230,000 Chinook salmon.
Among the issues were run timings.
The peak of the run for Kvichak River sockeyes in Southwest Alaska was 10 days later than average, making it the latest run since 1956, and over half of the Kenai River late-run sockeyes returned during August, something that has happened only once before. Copper River sockeyes returned in three distinct pulses, the third happening in mid-July. State biologists said these unusual run timings created uncertainty or fishery managers and resulted in foregone harvest opportunity for commercial fishermen. The combination of lower than anticipated returns and unusual run timing made it necessary to reduce fishing opportunity across much of the state.
Fishing closures and restrictions allowed enough salmon through to meet or exceed many established escapement goals. These included the Yukon River summer and fall chum salmon, Canadian border king salmon passage, Kuskokwim River king salmon, Copper River sockeye and king salmon, all sockeye and coho salmon in Upper Cook Inlet, Kenai Rifer late-run kings, and Unuk, Alsek and Keta river kings.
By meeting these escapement goals, there is a probability for future salmon returns to provide harvestable surplus for all harvesters, state biologists said.
ADF&G also urged an eye to historical salmon harvests in Alaska. The three largest commercial salmon harvests in Alaska on record were in 2013 and 2017. Looking back to the mid-1970s, harvests of between 100 million and 150 million fish, like 2018, were far more common than harvests exceeding 200 million fish, which happened for seven seasons since 1975.
ADF&G will continue to provide daily updates on statewide preliminary total harvest and ex-vessel value estimates by species and area through mid-October.