A promise of rain loomed for Sept. 1-3, and temperatures cooled, but with no rain leading up to the Labor Day weekend holiday, a lot of pink salmon were still ending up dying off before spawning in Prince William Sound.
“With low water the fish can’t enter the streams,” said Charlie Russell, seine area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova. “And when they try to get into the stream with low water flow there are too many fish in the stream, and they run out of oxygen and end up having a die-off.”
It happens in some streams every year, but this year has been more intense, with little to no rain and drought conditions.
Still compared to where the harvest stood on Aug. 6 there’s been quite a bit of improvement, Russell said on Tuesday, Aug. 27. The preliminary ADF&G report as of that date showed a Prince William Sound humpy harvest of 44.3 million pink salmon, up from about 34 million a week earlier. The Sound’s king salmon, sockeye and chum harvests were relatively unchanged at 18,000 fish, 2.5 million fish and 5.3 million fish respectively, but harvests of silver salmon rose to 201,000 fish, up from about 50,000 a week earlier.
The five-year average for humpy harvests in Prince William Sound is about 55 million fish, and Russell estimated that with water temperatures cooling because the days are getting shorter that they might end the season with 50 million fish.
“The fish are doing okay in saltwater right now because the water is cooler,” he said. “They are still holding at the stream mouth. It looks like it does usually earlier in the season, but these warmer, dry summers are going to become more common moving into the future.”
The pinks being harvests are healthy fish, about 3.2 to 3.4 pounds, about normal, Russell said.
“They are healthy looking fish.”
Still escapement so far has not been the healthiest, he noted.
“If we start getting rainfall this weekend and if continues for the next couple of weeks for these fish to spawn, we could be okay,” Russel said. “Once it does start raining the spawning will happen really quick. These fish are ready to go. They’ve been waiting for weeks,” he said.
Statewide harvests meanwhile rose to nearly 185 million fish, including 113.4 million pink, 54.9 sockeyes, nearly 14 million chum, more than 2 million silver and 248,000 Chinook salmon.
Garrett Evridge of the McDowell Group, who writes the weekly statewide commercial salmon harvest report for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said that with about one month of productive fishing remaining the year-to-date statewide harvest of about two million coho is 18 percent behind the 2018 pace, the year-to-date harvest of some 14 million keta represents a 16 percent decline from 2018 and the sockeye harvest of nearly 55 million fish is 10 percent ahead of 2018.