Prince William Sound humpy harvest is 3rd largest of decade

A vessel navigates Cordova Harbor. (Aug. 24, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Harvests of pink salmon in Prince William Sound are the third highest odd-year catch of the decade, thanks in part of a robust return of wild stocks.

“The highlight of this season has been the wild stocks returning stronger than anticipated, given the uncertainty about spawning success from the 2019 parent year that was assumed to be negatively impacted by drought conditions,” said Heather Scannell, area management seine biologist in Cordova for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The pink salmon harvest in the past couple of weeks increased largely in part to the completion of the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp.’s cost recovery on Aug. 14, Scannell said.

“For the week of Aug. 14 pink harvest was 6.9 million fish and the following week it was 13.7 million pinks,” she said. “On the 15th of August, the day after cost recovery was completed, there was a clean-up fishery at all of PWSAC hatcheries. From then pink management has been focused on providing fishing opportunity while also allowing PWSAC to obtain and secure their broodstock.”

To date this is the third largest harvest of PWS pink salmon, odd-year stock, in the past decade, followed by 2013 and 2015, respectively, she said.

Coho harvest has also increased in the past week, due to daily fishing in Valdez Arm, with those cohos likely being from the Solomon Gulch Hatchery, she said.

Still, fishing has slowed throughout Prince William Sound in the past couple of days, Scannell noted, and it is likely that we will start to see a decrease in effort as seiners begin to head home, she said.

As of Tuesday, Aug. 24, the overall Prince William Sound common property harvest stood at 58,736,456 fish, including 8,432 kings, 1,050,063 sockeyes, 2,015,281 chums, 55,573,132 pinks and 58,330 cohos.

The statewide preliminary commercial harvest grew to over 190 million fish, including nearly 27 million pinks, 53.5 million sockeyes, 8.3 million chums, 1.4 million cohos and 197,000 Chinooks.

“The 2021 Alaska salmon harvest made up ground last week on the year-to-date 2020 harvest (2019 for pinks) and is now up 13% compared to the 2019/2020 benchmark,” noted Dan Lesh who produces the in-season commercial salmon harvest report for McKinley Research Group on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Pink salmon are now up 11% year-to-date compared to the same period in 2019, Lesh said,

“As of last week, the 2019 and 2021 year-to-date pink harvests were about the same,” he said.

“This summer’s pink harvest appears to have peaked on the week of Aug. 8, but last week’s harvest was just 4% lower at 27,000 fish.”

Over 98% of the pre-season pink salmon forecast has now been caught, he said. About one third of those pinks will be canned, with headed and gutted pink, mostly reprocessed in China, and roe, mostly sold in Japan and eastern Europe, being the other main products.

Coho salmon harvests, which usually peak in late August, have declined for three consecutive weeks. The coho harvest is even with 2020, but down 45% year-to-date from the five-year average for this point of the season.

Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound are continuing to have standout harvests in recent weeks. They are up 66% and 43% respectively from year-to-date 2020 (2019 for pinks). Prince William Sound has now surpassed the region’s pre-season harvest forecast of 59.7 million fish.

In the state’s westward region, harvesters have delivered to processors 41.4 million fish, including 29.4 million pinks, 9.5 million sockeyes 2 million chums, 390,000 cohos and 20,000 Chinook salmon. Over 18 million of those fish came from the Alaska Peninsula, including 10 million pinks, 6.7 million sockeyes 1.7 million chums 268,000 cohos and 12,000 kings.

For the Kodiak area, the catch was 22.7 million fish including 19 million pinks, 2.8 million sockeyes, 385,000 chums, 122,000 cohos and 8,000 kings.

Cook Inlet commercial harvesters, by comparison, brought in 3.4 million salmon, including 1.7 million humpies, 1.5 million sockeyes, 144,000 cohos, 86,000 chums and 1,000 kings. For the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, deliveries from Norton Sound reached 271,000 fish, mostly pinks and 81,000 chums were caught in the Kotzebue region, while all along the Yukon all

commercial and subsistence fishing was cancelled because of low runs of salmon, creating major economic challenges for families of commercial and subsistence harvesters all along the Yukon River. Kwik’Pak Fisheries was able to hire plant workers because of its new investment in growing vegetables in greenhouses and also buying some fish from commercial cod fishermen, radio station KYUK reported.