Despite some strong production, salmon season still lags

10th& M Seafoods reports strong sales of fresh salmon throughout the pandemic

A fishing vessel prepares to exit Cordova Harbor. (June 17, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Commercial drift gillnetters and purse seiners delivered an estimated 1.3 million salmon to processors in the Prince William Sound area through Wednesday, July 1, including some 468,739 sockeyes, in a season that has been a real slow starter.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game data compiled through that date also showed a harvest of some 6,605 Chinook, 195 coho, 497 pink and 812,671 chum salmon.

The last Copper River opener was on June 18, with 102 deliveries from gillnetters of some 9,858 red, 240 chum and 64 king salmon. Overall Copper River deliveries through that date totaled 99,342 fish.

Fisheries economist Garrett Evridge of the McDowell Group notes that the 2020 Alaska salmon season continues to lag behind previous years, though some areas are seeing average or strong production. About 5.8 million fish have been landed so far this season, compared to nearly 14 million fish landed at the same point in 2018, Evridge wrote in his weekly update on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Although data may be revised higher, year-to-date sockeye landings are more than 70 percent lower than 2019 and the five-year average, Evridge said Monday, June 29. Harvests in Bristol Bay has been particularly slow, with production down by 80 percent from a year ago, but ahead of 2015 and 2016, Some areas of Prince William Sound saw better sockeye fishing last week while Cook Inlet slowed against prior years. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands regions are about 50 percent behind 2019 and 80 percent lower than their five-year average.

Pink landings are relatively strong due to harvests in the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands regions. However, it is still early for the species. Peak harvests of pinks typically happen in late July and early August.

Keta harvests are down 39 percent from the same date a year ago and 50 percent lower than the five-year average, Evridge said. Although the Prince William Sound region overall is 44 percent behind 2019, seining in the area has been relatively strong. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands are 18 percent below last year, but 10 percent ahead of the five-year average. Deliveries to processors in Kodiak are 85 percent ahead of 2019 and on par with the five-year average, he said.

An estimated 30 million pounds of salmon have been harvested so far this year. Anecdotal reports indicate average size of sockeye and pink salmon are down in Bristol Bay and the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands.

Actual sales of fresh wild Alaska salmon through this whole pandemic have been strong, said Rob Winfree of 10th & M Seafoods, a popular Anchorage seafood market offering fresh off the boat wild Alaskan king salmon fillets for $19.95 a pound and sockeye fillets for $13.95 a pound.

FishEx, also in Anchorage, has premium portions of Copper River king salmon fillets for $69.95 a pound and portions of Copper River sockeye salmon for $39.95 a pound.

Pike Place Fish Market has four-pound whole Alaska sockeye salmon for $79.98 apiece or fillets of Alaska sockeye salmon for $29.99 a pound.