Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Salmon Projections

By Margaret Bauman

Alaska’s 2010 fishing season, underway in earnest in June, is expected to see a harvest of 45 million fish, slightly above the 5-year average of 42 million, making this the seventh consecutive year of sockeye harvests near or above 40 million fish.

That’s the word from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Salmon Market Bulletin, out in early June and online at alaskaseafood.org.

The bulletin, written for ASMI under contract with the McDowell Group, a Juneau-based research and consulting firm, notes that Bristol Bay is expected to be a strong performer again this year, with a harvest projection of 30 million sockeye, 67 percent of the statewide total. Elsewhere in Alaska, fisheries are expected to produce 15 million sockeye, up from 12 million in 2009.

State sockeye harvest projections have been relatively accurate over in the past four years, although low by 17 percent in 2006, 16 percent in 2007 and 14 percent in 2009, the report said. If this recent pattern of under-projection holds for 2010, the sockeye harvest could exceed 50 million for the first time since 1995. The Bristol Bay harvest is key to that potential. Last year the Bristol Bay catch was projected at 24 million sockeye, but came in at nearly 31 million fish.

The anticipated king salmon harvest is 415,000 fish, about 20 percent below the 5-year average, but the state has not yet released the projection for Southeast Alaska, the primary harvest area for the species. Chinook harvests in Southeast Alaska is limited by terms of the pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada and quotas allowed under that treaty were published recently.

The bad news for harvesters of pinks is that if the 2010 harvest projection of 69 million fish is accurate, that would be the second smallest Alaska pink harvest in 20 years. The low point was 60 million pinks in 1992.

While the 2010 projection is near the low end of the 20-year range, it is consistent with the normal fluctuation in the abundance cycle. The report notes that variation of the Alaska pink harvest follows a predictable pattern based on the two-year life cycle of the fish. Abundance of parent-year fish is directly related to current-year abundance. Pink harvests in 2004, 2006 and 2008 averaged 85 million fish, compared to harvests averaging 134 million pinks in 2005, 2007 and 2009. The odd-even pink salmon abundance pattern is especially distinct in recent years, but is a long-term pattern.

The 2010 chum projection is 17.9 million fish, slightly above the 5-year average of 17.3 million. Major harvests will be in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound, with much of the catch coming from hatchery fish.

For coho salmon, the 2010 projection is 4.35 million fish reveals little about the potential of the coho return to produce a harvest substantially above or below projection. The five-year average harvest is 4.29 million silvers.

The Alaska coho harvest can vary widely. While the recent 10-year average harvest is 4.5 million, the harvest has been as low as 3.6 million fish in 2007 and as high as 9.6 million in 1994. Prices for coho salmon dipped in 2009, but otherwise have remained relatively strong in recent years, stimulating fishing effort in the late season, when silvers are most abundant. “Improved salmon market conditions suggest the price will recover to some extent an coho fishing effort is likely to remain strong, creating potential for a harvest substantially above projection,” the report said.

Estimates of salmon roe production – from pink, chum and sockeye – are for 19 million to 20 million pounds, down from the recent five-year average of 23.5 million pounds. Pink salmon typically provides a little more than half of the roe production, but with the modest 69 million pinks in 2010, pink roe is expected to be about 7 million pounds, less than 40 percent of the statewide total roe production volume.

Chum salmon provide the second largest source of roe, and chum roe production is expected to be at or near 6 million pounds with the chum harvest projection at 18 million. Chum roe is the highest valued roe and most often used to make ikura or other single-egg roe products.

Sockeye makes up the final major piece or roe supply, and with that harvest projected at 45 million fish, the sockeye are expected to yield approximately 6 million pounds of roe.

Roe recovery has generally been lower for sockeye, due in part to the compression of the run and to relate chilling issues with Bristol Bay sockeye. Still, the Bristol Bay fleet is making significant headway on chilling and sockeye roe recovery may improve as more fish are chilled at the point of harvest, the report said.

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