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Alaska Fish Factor: Salmon season falls just short

Staff Writer |
“We are within about 10 percent of the forecast, so that’s very positive and overall it’s been a pretty good season,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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The state-wide salmon catch through 25th August topped 191 million. The shortfall, Bowers said, again stems from the arrival of fewer pink salmon.

“We were expecting a harvest of about 142 million, right now it’s at 114 million. We’re probably not going to catch another 30 million pinks between now and the end of the season,” he said.

Still, the bread and butter catches are far better than last year, when pink returns were so dismal it prompted a disaster declaration by Governor Walker.

This summer’s humpy haul at the three prime producing regions all are within the lower ends of the forecast ranges, with Southeast’s take so far on its way to 28 million, Kodiak at 19 million and Prince William Sound nearing 42 million pink salmon (humpback whale predation is being blamed on lower pink salmon catches there).

One big pink winner this year, Bowers said, is the Alaska Peninsula which had a “spectacular season.”

“Their pink harvest (nearly 19 million) and chum catch (nearly 2 million) will end up in the top five on record,” Bowers said. “And the Peninsula sockeye harvest (7 million) is going to the second or third largest ever.”

It will be sockeyes that help offset any number shortfalls this season, with a statewide take of about 52 million, of which nearly 37 million came from Bristol Bay.

“It is the tenth time in history that we’ve harvested over 50 million sockeye salmon,” Bowers said. “Catches for the previous two years also topped 50 million, but prior to that, you had to go back to the mid- to late 1990s to see such a large sockeye harvest.”

Perhaps the biggest salmon surprise this year was the huge returns of chum salmon across the state. The catch to date of 21.2 million chums is just shy of the all-time record of 24 million fish set in 2000.

“It’s one of the six times we’ve ever harvested over 20 million chums. That was a surprise. We didn’t expect that at all,” Bower said, adding that coho catches are also stronger than usual.

On the Yukon River, a catch of more than one million chum salmon have been taken so far, with the best fall catches in history. The Yukon also has seen the biggest king salmon returns since 2005.

Salmon even appeared at Barrow, where locals were able to pack their freezers with a mix of chums, pinks and kings.

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