Salmon forecast looks pretty encouraging

Statewide commercial harvest projections are for a catch of 213.2 million fish

Zach Swingle throws a Copper River king salmon to get filleted at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle on Sunday, May 20, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

In the wake of a 2018 fishing season that left many scraping to get through the winter, forecasts for the upcoming commercial season bode well for a harvest of upwards of 70 million Pacific salmon in Prince William Sound.

“This year’s forecast is pretty encouraging,” said Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova. “Ocean conditions last year were a big driver in the whole thing. It was the tail end of abnormally warm temperatures in the Gulf.”

“Signs point to having a good season,” echoed Charlie Russell, the state’s seine area management biologist. “The forecast looks good.”

Projections released in the statewide commercial salmon harvest this year are for 213.2 million fish, including 112,000 Chinook in areas outside Southeast Alaska, 41.7 million sockeye, 4.6 million coho, 137.8 million pink, and 29 million chum. When compared with last year’s harvest, the projected 2019 commercial harvests are expected to include 96.9 million more humpies, 8.9 million fewer red, 900,000 more silver and 8.7 million more chum salmon, ADF&G said in projections released in early April.

Statewide that would add up to 112,000 kings, 41.7 million sockeyes, 4.6 million silver, nearly 138 million humpies and 29 million chums.

For Prince William Sound itself, the commercial harvest projection is for some 28,000 kings, 2.5 million red, 600,000 silver, 64.7 million humpies and 2.7 million chum salmon. A further breakout from ADF&G showed the natural production harvest forecast of 1.1 million red,

372,000 silver, 22.4 million pink and 392,000 chum, along with 28,000 kings, for total natural production of 24.3 million fish. Hatchery production harvest, by comparison, is forecast at 1.4 million sockeye, 228,000 silver, 42.4 million humpy and 2.4 million chum salmon.

Preliminary 2018 Alaska commercial salmon harvest figures included 8,000 Chinook, 1.3 million sockeye, 523,000 coho, 24.06 million pink and 3.47 million chum, for a total commercial catch of 29.4 million fish. The 2018 harvest included 24.99 million, or 85 percent commercial common property fishery and 4.38 million or 15 percent hatchery cost-recovery and broodstock fish.

The 2018 preseason commercial harvest forecast for the Copper River District called for 13,000 kings, but in face 99 percent of the commercial harvest of those 8,000 kings took place during the first three fishing periods, and the season total harvest of kings was the lowest since statehood.

Last year the preseason commercial harvest forecast for the Copper River District called for a catch of 942,000 reds, with the Gulkana Hatchery projected to contribute 71,000 of those fish. Prince William sound Aquaculture Corp. forecast a run of 763,000 Main Bay Hatchery enhanced reds and the Coghill Lake sockeye salmon run was forecast at 183,000 fish.

In fact, the Copper River drift gillnet sockeye harvest of 47,000 fish was 97 percent less than the recent 10-year harvest average of 129 million and the second lowest harvest in the last 100 years, ADF&G biologists noted in their report. Some 41,100 or 87 percent of that catch included wild sockeyes and the Gulkana Hatchery contributed some 5,900 or 13 percent of the catch.

For coho, last year’s preseason commercial harvest forecast was for 226,000 fish. The total purse seine commercial harvest of coho in Prince William Sound, excluding the Copper River and Bering River districts, was 81,000 fish. The season total drift gillnet coho salmon commercial harvest for Copper River District of 304,000, well above the recent 10-year harvest average of 225,000 fish.

The 2018 pink run total forecast for Prince William Sound was 34.35 million, of which 28.31 million were estimated to be available for commercial harvest. What happened was the commercial harvest of 20.16 million humpies harvested added up to 14.26 million less than the five-year even-year average of 29 percent below the preseason forecast. The wild pink salmon commercial harvest of five million was the second largest even year harvest since 1998.

Last year’s chum salmon total run forecast was 3.45 million, including 450,000 chum expected to be harvested at Armin F. Koernig Hatchery and 150,000 expected to be harvested at Port Chalmers by purse seiners. The purse seine commercial common property harvest of 1.05 million chum was above the recent 10-year harvest average of 691,000 fish.

The complete run forecast and harvest projections for 2019 and a review of the 2018 season can be found online at adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/SP19-07.pdf.