Humpy catch ends, coho opener wait for rain

PWS salmon harvest hits 55,672,000 fish and rising

Fishing vessels docked in Cordova Harbor on Sept. 12, 2019. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
Fishing vessels docked in Cordova Harbor on Sept. 12, 2019. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Commercial catches of pink salmon have concluded for the season in Prince William Sound, aided at season’s end by some rainfall, and harvesters were hoping this week for more rain to reopen the coho fishery, which opened last on Sept. 2.

“We still haven’t gotten a lot of rain, so we’re tracking behind in escapement and the (coho) commercial harvest is below anticipated,” said Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova. “We had been fishing once a week and now we have been closed for more than a week.”

The last opener for coho salmon was Sept. 2.

“We’re waiting for rain so the cohos can head into their spawning grounds,” Botz said. Rain was anticipated on Thursday, Sept. 12, and with that there loomed the possibility of openers on Sept. 14 or Sept. 16, he said.

The Copper River cohos so far delivered to processors were weighing in at about 7.5 pounds and looked good, he said.

Through Sept. 10 some 467,000 silvers had been harvested in Prince William Sound, the bulk of them in the Sound’s general seine fishery.

The pink salmon fishery meanwhile stood at 47.5 million fish through that date, with individual humpies weighing in at 3.4 pounds each, said Charlie Russell, who oversees the Sound’s seine fishery.

“We did get some rainfall last weekend, which probably helped push the fish into the streams in some areas, but there’s been no rain since, so we don’t know if they are holding at the streams,” Russell said. “Given more rain, a good portion of those fish would have moved into the streams.”

The Gulf of Alaska as a whole had record warm weather, another heat wave similar to the Blob, he said.

“As everyone is aware, there was a record heat wave in Alaska, which led to warmer water and drought,” Russell said. “We had dry creek beds throughout the Sound.  All species of salmon were affected, and the likelihood of a repeat is there. Southeast Alaska has been in a drought for a few years ow, and we are dealing with warmer climate, changing weather.”

Along with the 467,000 cohos and some 47,301,000 pinks, Prince William Sound harvesters have delivered to processors 5,334,000 chum, 2,552,000 sockeyes and 18,000 kings for a total of 55,672,000 fish.

The statewide catch stood at 198.4 million salmon, including 123,672,000 pink, 55,155,000 sockeye, 16,291,000 chum, 3,029,000 coho and 253,000 Chinook.

Harvesters in the state’s central region, which includes Bristol Bay, have caught 104.4 million salmon, including 49,213,000 pink, 47,781,000 sockeye, 6,617,000 chum, 715,000 coho and 53,000 kings.

The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim catch of 1,428,000 fish includes 1,133,000 keta salmon, 195,000 coho, 89,000 humpies, 7,000 sockeye and 4,000 kings.

In the westward region, deliveries now total 64,879,000 fish, including 55,111,000 humpies, 6,616,000 sockeye, 2,025,000 chum, 1,089,000 coho and 38,000 kings, of which 26,174,000 of those fish come from the Alaska Peninsula and 35,479,000 fish are from the Kodiak area.