Alaska state fisheries biologists are predicting a Southeast Alaska pink salmon harvest in the strong range in 2016 with a point estimate of 34 million fish.
An actual harvest of 34 million humpies would be below the recent 10-year average of 38 million pink salmon.
State biologists said they produced a forecast of the trend in the harvest and adjusted it using 2015 juvenile pink salmon abundance data provided by NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, and Auke Bay Laboratories.
State biologists Andy Piston and Steve Heinl, both based in Ketchikan, said that perhaps the largest potential source of uncertainty regarding the 2016 pink salmon return are the unusually warm sea surface temperatures that have persisted throughout the Gulf of Alaska since fall 2013.
Pink salmon that went to sea in 2014 returned in numbers well below expectation in 2015, particularly in the southern half of the region, they said. Pink salmon that went to sea in 2015, and are set to return in 2016, experienced similar above-average sea surface temperatures.
There were also widespread reports of more southern species in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, suggesting pink salmon may experience more petition or predation than normal in 2016. Those species include albacore, American shad, market squid, ocean sunfish, Pacific bonito, Pacific pompano and skipjack tuna.
Piston and Heinl said another reason to expect the harvest could be below average in 2016 is the recent poor performance of even-year returns to northern inside waters. Harvests averaged three million fish over the past five even years and were only one million fish in the two most recent even years.
In addition, they said, escape indices were below management targets for 17 of 21 northern inside pink salmon stock groups in 2014, which may help perpetuate continued poor harvests in northern inside waters.