Pink salmon fishery back in business

ADF&G’s Russell: We could use a good month of rain

Pink salmon commercial harvests are still below forecasts, but even with no prospect of rain predicted so far until Aug. 22, the catch in Prince William Sound rose from 17.6 million to 22.2 million within the past week.

Preliminary harvest figures posted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game showed that 22,904,000 pinks comprised the bulk of the overall Prince William Sound harvest as of Aug. 14.  The rest of the overall catch to date of 30.5 million fish in the Sound’s commercial harvest includes 5,026,000 chum, 2,526,000 sockeyes, 18,000 Chinook and 15,000 coho salmon.

The pink salmon fishery reopened on Monday, Aug. 12, after the humpies finally made a decision to start moving into dry creek beds, said Charlie Russell, seine area management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova.

While the pinks are getting upstream, they are not so far doing so in sufficient amounts due to the low water, Russell said. At a lot of creeks where the fish would normally be up there by this time of year, they are still holding at the mouth waiting for rain, he said.

“What we really need is once it starts raining for it to not stop,” Russell said. “We’ve seen this before. The fish will hold on the stream mouth until it starts raining. They will move in and out with the tide. They hold in big masses at the base of the stream waiting for sufficient water flow. They flush in and out with the tide. Hopefully it starts raining and it doesn’t let up in the next couple of weeks.”

Meanwhile, it’s stressful for the humpies, whose biological clocks tell them it is time to spawn.

“They are pretty resilient,” Russell said. “There will be mortality and fish will die, but hopefully enough of them will hold on until it rains.”

Early reports on the silver salmon fishery in Prince William Sound showed that the coho are nice and bright with a mix of larger and smaller fish, said Jeremy Botz, drift gillnet area management biologist for Prince William Sound at Cordova. Over the past week the commercial catch of silver salmon in the Sound rose from 9,000 to 15,000 fish.

The statewide preliminary harvest as of Aug. 14 stood at 124,694,000 fish, including 53,907,000 sockeye, 58,194,000 pinks, 11,266,000 chum, 1,110,000 coho and 217,000 Chinooks.

So far sockeye and pink salmon production statewide account for 45 percent each of the total catch, noted Garrett Evridge, of the McDowell Group, which produces weekly updates on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. While the statewide 2019 sockeye harvest is on track to be the fourth largest on record, other species are lagging, he notes.

Year-to-date statewide pink salmon harvests of some 58 million fish are about one third lower than 2017. At this point in 2015 roughly 112 million pinks had been harvested and for the same year-to-date in 2013 the pink harvest was 148 million fish. Most areas remain well behind the 2017 harvest pace, with Kodiak being the exception, he said. The ADF&G blue sheet of preliminary harvests through Aug. 14 showed Kodiak fishermen had delivered 16.6 million salmon, including 14,484,000 humpies, 1,658,000 sockeyes, 418,000 chum, 77,000 coho and 6,000 Chinooks. The state’s western region overall had a catch of 36.7 million fish, including nearly 29 million pink, 5.8 million red, 1.6 million chum, 378,000 silver and 35,000 kings. The previously week’s salmon update in The Cordova Times mistakenly identified the entire westward region catch as that of Kodiak.

Evridge noted that the keta salmon harvest also continues to lag behind 2018 by about 20 percent, with weakness in most areas overcoming strong volumes of the keta in Prince William Sound. Coho production is about one third lower than last year and roughly half the five-year average, and the Chinook harvest of 191,000 fish is nine percent lower than the year-to-date 2018 volume, he said.

Track the ADF&G preliminary salmon harvest updates online at adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyfisherysalmon.bluesheet.