Commercial harvesters wished they could have had more fishing time at the beginning of the season, but by the end of the season it certainly wasn’t a disaster, said Chelsea Haisman, executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United.
“Overall, we are very happy with the way the seine season went,” she said. “Pink catches were very high. We are grateful and hoping for a strong finish with the cohos.”
Still, the same amount of fish early on in the season holds much higher value, said Haisman, echoing the refrain of gillnetters who did not get openers for the famed Copper River sockeye salmon early on in the season when prices were higher. “Especially considering we exceeded the (Alaska Department of) Fish and Game in-river goal by over 100,000 fish,” she said. “We lost economic opportunity for the community.”
The harvest of pink salmon itself, including another 2 million humpies harvested in the past week, was better than anticipated, said Heather Scannell, area management seine biologist in Cordova for ADF&G. The forecast for Prince William Sound pink salmon was 47.5 million fish.
As of Wednesday, Aug 31, the state’s preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest blue sheet estimated that the number of humpies delivered to processors in Prince William Sound exceeded 63 million fish. The ADF&G report also estimated the rest of the region’s harvest to include 2.6 million chums, 1.3 million sockeyes, 84,000 cohos and 7,000 Chinooks.
The statewide preliminary commercial harvest meanwhile rose to 208.8 million fish, including 143 million pinks, 54 million sockeyes, 9.8 million chums, 1.7 million cohos and 220,000 kings.
“The Alaska salmon harvest now exceeds pre-season projections,” said Dan Lesh, who compiles in-season weekly commercial salmon harvest reports for McKinley Research Group on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Both sockeye and pink salmon harvests have surpassed projections by more than 10% this season, but smaller average fish sizes are also being observed, he said. Meanwhile keta, Chinook and coho salmon harvests are not expected to reach their projected levels, he said.
The average sockeye caught in Bristol Bay in 2021 was just 4.65 pounds, according to ADF&G, the smallest since at least 1979.
When accounting for smaller fish, estimated Bristol Bay sockeye harvest volume is the lowest since 2014 at 187.6 million pounds, and tight supplies are being reported as a result, he said.
Similarly, average pink salmon sizes in Southeast Alaska are among the lowest on record, at just 2.9 pounds. While 2021’s year-to-date harvest of 42 million pinks in Southeast would be the most numerous harvest since 2013 by weight. 2014, 2015 and 2017 all beat 2021’s year-to-date harvest volume. Average fish size data for 2021 is unfortunately not yet available for most other regions of the state, he said.
Cook Inlet commercial harvesters have brought in just 3.6 million salmon overall, including some 1.9 million humpies, 1.5 million sockeyes, 147,000 cohos, 86,000 chums and 1,000 kings, while in the westward region fishermen delivered to processors over 48 million fish, including 36 million pinks, 9.8 million sockeyes 2.2 million chums, 528,000 cohos and 21,000 kings.
In the Alaska Peninsula the harvest of 11 million pinks, 6.7 million sockeyes, 1.7 million chums, 311,000 cohos and 13,000 kings added up to nearly 20 million fish., and Kodiak area harvesters to date have brought in over 24 million pinks, 3 million sockeyes, 398,000 chums 192,000 cohos and 8,000 Chinook salmon.