Commercial fisheries statewide are shifting from sockeye to pink salmon, in a challenging year which has seen the cumulative commercial harvest in Prince William Sound as the fourth lowest harvest to date in 50 years.
The cumulative sonar count through July 27 was 528,593 fish compared to the 620,401 fish projected through by this date, according to finfish area management biologists Jeremy Botz and Charlie Russell at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Cordova office. An aerial survey of the Copper River Delta was under way on Tuesday, July 28.
ADF&G’s preliminary commercial salmon harvest report as of Wednesday, July 29, put the total Prince William Sound harvest at 11.2 million fish, including 8.4 million pink, 1.9 million chum, 909,000 sockeye, 4,000 kings and 1,000 coho salmon.
The Copper River District has been closed for much of the season and given current indices of escapement, it is likely the district will remain closed to commercial fishing until transition to coho management in August, Botz and Russell said in their latest PWS salmon fishery update.
A 12-hour fishing period for subsistence harvesters was scheduled for the Copper River District for Thursday, July 30, plus another for 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1.
The Valdez Fishery Development Association has recommended closure of Port Valdez to assess broodstock, with future seine fishery commercial fishing periods targeting VFDA humpies in Port Valdez to be based on continued run entry and broodstock needs.
Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. began its cost recovery sales program on July 24, but as of July 27 had collected just 11 percent of the assigned pink salmon revenue goal. The ADF&G report said sampling of the cost recovery pink salmon harvest on July 27 showed an average weight of 3.3 pounds per fish. Time and area for future commercial harvest periods targeting wild stock pink and chum salmon will be dependent upon escapement, harvest and effort, fishery managers said.
Statewide through Wednesday, July 29, ADF&G’s preliminary salmon harvest report showed a catch of 62 million fish, including nearly 43 million sockeye, 14.6 million pink, over 4 million chum, 267,000 coho and 166,000 Chinook.
Although the season has improved significantly over the past four weeks, many areas of Alaska are behind historical averages, noted fisheries economist Garrett Evridge of the McDowell Group, which produced the weekly in-season commercial salmon report for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
The 2020 sockeye harvest is now nearly complete. While Kodiak, Southeast and other areas will continue sockeye landings through September, less than 10 percent of the annual sockeye catch is typically harvested after statistical week 30, Evridge said. Preliminary data from ADF&G indicate the average weight of this year’s Bristol Bay sockeye harvest – a total of 38.6 million fish- are slightly over 5 pounds, extending a trend of declining average weight for the species. The harvest pace in the Bay is 19 percent behind last year’s record harvest, but on par with the 10-year average.
This week and next are typically the peak of the humpy harvest. Based on the number of pinks, the current pace of harvest is comparable to 2018, but generally behind the longer term even year average, Evridge said. The pink salmon harvest has been relatively strong in Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, but lagging in Southeast Alaska, while Prince William Sound is behind 2018 and its historical average.
Just four million keta salmon have been landed so far this year, the lowest for this point in the season for at least 12 years. Only Kodiak is ahead of 2019. Southeast Alaska and the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region have been particularly slow, both far below historical levels.
Coho landings are also trending below typical levels with year-to-date harvest of 267,000 fish.
In most years at least one million coho have been harvested by week 30.
Chinook landings are behind the 2019 harvests, while Southeast Alaska harvests of coho are head of 2019, Everidge said.