Salmon harvest coming in below forecast

PWS is currently the state’s main keta-producing region

Fishing vessels in Cordova Harbor. (June 21, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Commercial harvests of Alaska’s iconic salmon are generally below expectation so far this season, particularly in the Copper River, where the preliminary catch to date includes 81,228 reds, 5,815 Chinooks and 1,296 chums.

And overall for the drift gillnet harvesters and purse seiners in Prince William Sound, so far it is a smaller run that forecast, with a preliminary collective harvest of some 736,453 fish.

That’s according to statewide data compiled by biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who update their preliminary harvest report daily and post it at adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyfisherysalmon.bluesheet.

“We are overall looking at a smaller run than we forecast or the Copper River,” said Jeremy Botz, area management biologist for the drift gillnet fishery in Cordova for ADF&G.

The gillnet fisheries overall for Prince William Sound are also well below anticipated, he said.

It seems this year, in contrast to last year, that water temperatures have been cooler, but what’s going on overall behind the lower than anticipated returns Botz is not about to speculate on.

As of Tuesday, June 23, the Coghill drift gillnet district had a harvest of 67,082 chums, 28,035 reds and 149 kings, and the drift/setnet fishery in the Eshamy Main Bay district had delivered 177,471 sockeye, 28,432 chums and 149 kings, while the Montague purse seine area had brought in 264,614 chums, 501 sockeyes and 200 kings.

Fisheries economist Garrett Evridge, who compiles in-season reports at the McDowell Group in Anchorage on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, agreed that the salmon fisheries so far this year are not meeting expectations.

The year-to-date statewide landings are the smallest in at least a dozen years, Evridge said.

Although some areas have been late to open or are much lower than historical averages, recovery from early season weakness can happen quickly as key fisheries come online, he said.

For example, a single strong week in Bristol Bay can produce multiples of the entire statewide May and June harvest, he said.

As of Tuesday, June 23, overall sockeye landings of about 640,000 fish were 75 percent lower than for the same time last year, when more than 2.5 million fish had already been harvested.

All regions are slow compared to prior years, with Prince William Sound down sharply, he said.

Keta production also is weaker than a year ago. The current harvest is about half of what it was around the same date last year. The main keta harvest area right now is Prince William Sound, and Kodiak is only nine percent behind last year. The humpy harvest for the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands region meanwhile is up 11 percent.

Chinook landings are 48 percent lower year-to-date, due to a slow Prince William Sound harvest. In most years, slowing Prince William Sound Chinook catches are offset by stronger Southeast and Bristol Bay harvests in the June-July timeframe, Evridge said.