Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Humpies Boost Wild Salmon Harvest to Nearly 90 Million Fish

By Margaret Bauman

Alaska’s wild salmon harvest for the 2012 season stood at 89.9 million fish by August 10th, a leap of nearly 40 million fish since July 27, albeit still below the projected harvest of 132.1 million fish.

But the salmon fisheries, pink salmon in particular, have a ways to go, says Geron Bruce, deputy director of commercial fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“It can happen fast with pink salmon,” Bruce said in an interview Aug. 7, referring to the fisheries in Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Southeast Alaska.

The pink salmon numbers are looking like the forecast, he said. “They are looking decent, maybe a little bit stronger. It is down from the five-year average and down from last year, but we expected that going into the season.”

And sure enough, the harvest of humpies alone rose from13 million on July 27 to 22.4 million by Aug. 3 and up to 39 million on Aug. 10, according to preliminary harvest reports from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Sockeye harvests are also down a bit, but not that far off from last year, and the chum harvest is actually looking pretty good, he said. As for pink salmon, “we are just hitting our stride,” Bruce said.

Harvest totals compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game through Aug. 10 showed a total of 34,686,000 sockeyes, 39,008,000 pinks, 14,866,000 chum, 1,152,000 coho and 210,000 Chinook salmon delivered to processors. The biggest jump came in pink salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska, where the catch of pinks rose from 1.2 million to 9 million fish between July 27 and Aug. 10.

In Prince William Sound, the humpy harvest rose in one week from 12.2 million to 18 million pinks, while for the same period at Kodiak, the humpy harvest jumped from 5.5 million fish to 10 million pinks.

State biologists said earlier they expected 2012 harvest of some 132.1 million salmon of all species, a decrease in commercial salmon caught in 2012 due to the projected decrease in pink salmon harvests. The projection was to include 120,000 Chinook salmon in areas outside Southeast Alaska, 38.4 million sockeye salmon, 4.3 million coho salmon, 70.2 million pink salmon and 19.1 million chum salmon.
The projected sockeye harvest was about 4 percent lower than the harvest of 2011, and the projected chum harvest was expected to be 12 percent higher than that of the 2011 chum harvest.

Of the 204,000 kings caught commercially statewide through Aug. 3, only 65,000 of them had been netted outside of Southeast Alaska.

In 2011, by comparison, the harvest totaled 177.1 million salmon of all species, which was 26.4 million less than the preseason forecast of 203.5 million fish.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute noted in its June market bulletin that a survey of fishery conditions and available forecasts suggested that the 2012 wild salmon production might decline by 30 percent, or 690 million pounds, with reduced supplies in Russia and Alaska.

The largest decline, however, was forecast to come from Russia. Russian pink salmon harvests, like those in Alaska, have recently followed a two-year up/down cycle, ASMI’s report noted. Pink salmon harvests are generally much lower in even years as opposed to odd years in both countries.

In Southeast Alaska’s troll fishery, the regional power troll coho catch rates for the week ended Aug. 10 were 77 fish a day. The average price was $1.40 a pound for the silvers. The seasonal average coho weight of 5 pounds is still relatively small, but for the week ending Aug. 10, the average weight of cohos increased to 5.6 pounds, and the cumulative coho catch in the troll fishery since July 1 stood at just over 484,500 fish.

In the Southeast purse seine fishery, the cumulative purse seine harvest was 7.9 million pink and 4.6 million chum salmon, with landings reported by 229 boats. The second in-season pink salmon forecast for the Southeast purse seine fishery, based on data through week 31, projected a harvest of 25 million fish, somewhat higher than the pre-season forecast of 17 million, state biologists said.

Harvests for the Copper River edged up slightly to 1.9 million fish, from 1.8 million on July 27, with the sockeye harvest reaching 1,854,000 reds. Participation in the drift gillnet fisheries had tapered off as hatchery chum salmon and hatchery and wild sockeye salmon runs neared completion. The fleet was concentrated primarily on pink salmon stocks in the Coghill district. The cumulative harvest of 1.85 million sockeye and about 12,000 Copper River kings through Aug. 10 compared with a historical five-year cumulative harvest average of 1.15 million sockeyes and 17,600 kings for that date.

Weather did not appear to be limiting the fishing effort in Prince William Sound. Purse seine fleet distribution in Prince William Sound shifted from Valdez Fisheries Development Association to wild stock fisheries in late July and it was anticipated that effort would switch focus to Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association hatchery fish as cost recovery fishing was completed.

In Upper Cook Inlet, participation in commercial fisheries was about normal, biologists said. About this time of year, participation in the drift gillnet fishery begins dropping. In the East Side setnet fishery, which had been closed down as a conservation measure earlier to allow more king salmon to get upstream, participation was low despite openings on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9. Many setnet crews had by this time left to find other sources of employment.

Chinook salmon runs in many watersheds on the Kenai Peninsula were either late in arriving or the runs were very weak, biologists said. The sport fishing division of the Alaska Department of Fish and game closed or severely restricted Chinook salmon fishing on nearly every system in Cook Inlet, and also made restrictions on the coho salmon fishery in the Kenai River to conserve Chinook salmon.
A commercial salmon fishing period in the Chignik Bay District, as well as the Inner Castle Cape subsection of the western district opened Aug. 3.

On the Lower Yukon River, the fall chum fishery continued, with a projected chum salmon run size greater than 900,000 fish, while on the Upper Yukon, the summer season commercial fishery was ongoing.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at

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