Salmon Harvest Update: Warm weather, drought delay humpy harvest

Salmon catch tops 21M fish in PWS, 103.6 M statewide

Unseasonably warm water and drought conditions in streams are putting a damper on pink salmon harvests in Prince William Sound, where the year-to-date catch on Tuesday, Aug. 6, stood at 13.6 million fish.

The recent year-to-date odd-year harvest average for Prince William Sound is 31.2 million humpies, notes Charlie Russell, the seine area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova.

There are a lot of unknowns related to stream migration, what with the warm weather and the drought, said Russell, whose office received reports of 70-degree water temperatures in the second week of July on dead calm sunny days. Openers for wild stock pinks were halted on July 20 due to a lack of sufficient escapements of pink salmon into area streams.

The unseasonably warm weather “Has caused the salmon to hold offshore in many areas of Prince William Sound and they aren’t entering the closed waters in sufficient numbers,” Russell said. “Recent aerial surveys of the Sound have shown improvements to wild stocks of pink salmon, but also indicated they are holding offshore due to warm water and low stream flows.

“They are swimming back and forth trying to determine where they want to go. A main concern is getting enough fish back to the streams,” he said.

At this point, “Either it will rain, and they will come in extremely fast or they will reach a certain point and come into the streams no matter what and try to spawn,” he said. “We are monitoring the streams, looking for improvements and we are improving in many areas around the sound.  This week would typically be the peak of the wild pink run.

“It’s a challenging year, for sure,” he said.

Sockeye salmon harvests meanwhile were still coming in ahead of the 756,000 fish forecast, said Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova.  As of Aug. 6, harvesters in Prince William Sound had delivered to processors, along with humpies, some 2.5 million sockeyes. 4.9 million chums, 18,000 kings and 6,000 silver salmon. The bulk of the red salmon deliveries – 1.2 million fish – have come from the Copper River drift fleet, where the top two spots for chum harvests have been the Montague district and Prince William Sound hatchery, according to ADF&G preliminary harvest updates.  Fillets of fresh Copper River reds were selling in Costco stores in Anchorage for $9.99 a pound.

On the Lower Yukon River near Emmonek in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Alaska, the fall harvest of oil-rich keta salmon was underway, said Jack Schultheis, manager for Kwik’Pak Fisheries, a small boat fishery that is a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association. After a challenging summer, with a compressed late run of fish, the fall run was looking a lot more normal and the fish were looking good, he said.  Deliveries to Knik’Pak through Aug. 5 totaled 282,000 keta salmon. 
In the Norton Sound area, harvesters brought in 146,000 keta, 23,000 cohos, and 75,000 humpies, and Kotzebue area fishermen caught 135,000 keta and 2,000 pink salmon, according to preliminary ADF&G data.

The catch for Southeast Alaska of 6.9 million salmon included 4.1 million pink, 2 million chum, 332,000 silver, 284,000 red and 119,000 Chinooks.On the Alaska Peninsula deliveries reached over 16 million salmon, including 11.5 million pink, 3.5 million sockeyes, 979,000 chum, 202,000 silver and 26,000 kings.  Kodiak area fishermen have brought in nearly 29 million salmon including 21.9 million humpies, 5.3 million red, 1.4 million chum, 297,000 silver and 35,000 kings.