Prince William Sound harvest reaches 30.9 M fish

Retail prices on wild sockeye salmon holding steady at $10.99 a pound in Alaska

Retail prices for wild Alaska sockeye salmon are holding their own in retail markets like Costco stores and other supermarkets in the Anchorage area. Photo by Margaret Bauman for The Cordova Times

Commercial salmon harvests in Prince William Sound have exceeded 30 million fish to date for the 2022 season, which began under sunny skies on May 16, with a catch of some 2,702 kings and 12,800 sockeyes. The coho harvest continues through mid-September.

The Prince William Sound preliminary harvest through Monday, Aug. 22 totaled nearly 31 million salmon, including 26.6 million pink, 62.8 million sockeyes, 2.8 million chum, 1.5 million sockeyes, 10,000 Chinooks and 7,000 cohos, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported.

In a season impacted by climate change, inflation and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, market demand for Alaska salmon has remained robust, with prices for sockeye fillets holding at $10.99 a pound in retail markets in the Anchorage area, $21.99 a pound at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle and $13.99 a pound at King Soopers stores in the Lower 48 states.

While sockeyes are being phased out for the season at the Pike Place Fish Market, fishmongers there said wild Alaska coho salmon are a hot item, at $84.99 for a whole fish averaging at six pounds.

The online seafood shop, FishEx, in Anchorage meanwhile still offers portions of Copper River sockeye salmon at $29.95 a pound, down from the initial $54.95 a pound.

The Prince William Sound coho harvest has been coming in well below forecast to date, a situation that Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist for ADF in Cordova, attributes at least in part to drought in 2019, a parent year for three-and-four-year-old cohos returning to the Copper River Delta.

Humpy harvests, by contrast, have been above the preseason forecast, mainly due to robust returns to the Solomon Gulch hatchery in Valdez, where they are averaging 3.5 to 3.6 pounds, said Heather Scannell, seine management biologist for ADF in Cordova.

Major processors purchasing the humpies in Cordova are Trident Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods and OBI Seafoods. Others includes Whittier Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods.

Statewide commercial harvests through Aug. 22 reached more than 146 million fish, including 73.8 million sockeyes, 60.3 million pinks, 10.9 million chums, 757,000 cohos and 249,000 Chinook salmon.

The all-species salmon harvest for 2021 totaled nearly 235 million fish, more than half of it composed of about 161.4 million pink salmon, followed by 57.1 million sockeyes. ADF had forecast a record sockeye harvest of 74 million fish, mostly from Bristol Bay, and a substantially smaller harvest of 67.2 million pink salmon. Humpy returns are more robust in odd than even years.

Statewide Alaska’s salmon harvests are up almost 18% year-to-date, according to Sam Friedman, who produces weekend commercial salmon in-season updates for McKinley Research Group in Anchorage, on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Pink salmon harvest numbers statewide are up 9% year-to-date from 2020. Pink salmon harvests were particularly strong last week in the Alaska Peninsula, where the harvest of 5.6 million pink salmon this year is up 18% from 2020. Pink salmon harvests of 13.9 million fish in Southeast Alaska is nearly double the humpy harvest there in 2020, although still low by historical standards. Pink salmon harvests are compared to 2020 instead of 2021 because of the species’ distinct two-year life cycle.

Most of the strength of Alaska’s salmon harvests this year came from sockeye salmon earlier this summer. That harvest, now winding down, us up 31% from 2021.

The sockeye harvest is nearly 100% of the ADF&G forecast for the season. The coho salmon season is typically later in the summer, and this year’s harvest is later than usual.

The coho harvest is currently down 53% from 2021 year-to-date, but there is still time for more coho to arrive.