PWS harvest season nears a wrap with some 24 million fish

Statewide harvest improves, while weak keta and coho landings persist

Marine vessels in Cordova Harbor. (Aug. 25, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Seine fisheries in Prince William Sound are about to wrap up for the season, with humpy harvests still well below forecast, and the overall preliminary commercial salmon harvest compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at just under 24 million fish.

As of Wednesday, Aug. 26, ADF&G said the preliminary count of pink salmon in all Prince William Sound commercial fisheries stood at 20.9 million fish.

About 210 to 215 boats fished in the seine fishery this year, a little down from the five-year average, said Charlie Russell, seine area management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova.

A year ago, 238 seine permit holders participated, which was high, he said.

Prices for the humpies were about 24 cents a pound, due to economic and market conditions.

There seems to be demand, but the cost of processing has gone up in large part because of safety measures necessitated by the global novel coronavirus pandemic. This is also an even year, which traditionally produces a weaker pink salmon run in Prince William Sound.

The gillnet fleet meanwhile is fishing one period a week for silvers on the Copper River Delta.

Prices for the cohos were over $1 a pound, higher than last year, said Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova.

Several processors have closed down in Cordova for the season, leaving only Whittier Seafoods and OBI, and the egg take is underway at the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., where they were so far short on brood stock, Russell said.

The overall preliminary harvest total for Prince William Sound as of Aug. 26, as noted by ADF&G, stood at 23.9 million salmon, including 20.9 humpies, 935,000 sockeye, 2 million chum, 98,000 coho and 4,000 Chinook.

The statewide preliminary commercial salmon harvest total was 105 million salmon, including nearly 45 million sockeye, more than 53 million humpies, 5.3 million chum, 1.2 million coho and 194,000 kings.

The 2020 Alaska salmon harvest passed two important thresholds last week, noted Garrett Evridge, a McDowell Group economist who provides weekly in-season commercial salmon harvest updates for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Those thresholds included 50 million pinks landed and 100 million salmon of all species. While improved harvest has lifted pink volume, weak keta and coho landings persist, he said.

Of the nearly 220,000 sockeye landed last week, 90 percent were from Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Island region.

The addition of some 4.5 million fish pushed the year’s total to over 53 million pinks, bringing the current season 35 percent and 44 percent ahead of 2018 and 2019 respectively. About three-fourths of the pinks harvested statewide have come from Prince William Sound and Kodiak. Prince William Sound reached 66 percent of its projected harvest and Kodiak exceeded its projection by 55 percent. While the Cook Inlet pink harvest was stronger than 2018, that region lags in harvest expectations by about 20 percent. Southeast Alaska reached 44 percent of its projected harvest.

Year-to-date harvests of 5.2 million keta is about 12 million fish, or 69 percent behind the five-year average. Roughly a quarter of the 2020 projected harvest of keta has been reached.

While the coho harvest is about 60 percent behind the five-year average, last week’s harvest of nearly 200,00 fish was the strongest weekly harvest of the season, Evridge said.

Statewide spring and summer Chinook landings of 166,000 fish are 35 percent behind a year ago and most of the remaining harvest this year will come from Southeast, which is 14 percent behind 2019, he said.

Bristol Bay harvesters brought in nearly 40 million sockeyes, 265,000 chum, 85,000 coho, 59,000 humpies and 5,000 Chinook, with the largest catch in Egegik and the Naknek-Kvichak districts. Kodiak’s harvest of 21 million fish included more than 19 million humpies, 1.2 million red, 364,000 chum, 228,000 coho and 7,000 kings.

For the Alaska Peninsula, the harvest stood at 7.3 million salmon, including over 4 million pink, 2.5 million sockeye 651,000 chum, 119,000 coho and 21,000 kings.