The state’s salmon harvest topped 160 million fish over the weekend, but it’s questionable whether the catch will meet preseason expectations.
In Southeast, catches are running well below the forecast set earlier this year. As of Sunday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported 22.6 million salmon caught in Southeast, including only 15 million pink salmon. Heading into the season, the spot forecast called for 58 million pink salmon, and forecasters were 80 percent confident that the harvest would be between 37 million and 79 million fish.
Instead, figures now seem to indicate a harvest below the bottom end of that range.
In an average year, Southeast’s salmon harvest peaks in what ADFG calls “statistical week 32,” or between Aug. 2-8. The five-year average harvest for that week is 11.1 million salmon, mostly pinks, but recent years have been higher. Last year, 12.1 million fish were caught during that period.
This year, the catch was less than half the five-year average. Only 4.1 million salmon were caught between Aug. 2-8, and that figure was a marked drop from the previous week, when 6.4 million fish were caught.
Poor fishing is also being reported in northern British Columbia, where runs near Prince Rupert are much smaller than anticipated. Fishermen in the North Coast region are attributing the poor return to the offshore algae bloom caused by a massive pool of warm ocean water. Joy Thorkelson of the Prince Rupert City Council referred to the situation with an an analogy to “Ghostbusters.”
“(The ocean has) had a growth of algae that’s created a slime. If anyone has seen ‘Ghostbusters,’ they’ll know ectoplasm. That’s what the slime is like — ectoplasm,” she was quoted as saying in the Northern View newspaper.
Though fishing has thus far been poor in Southeast, that hasn’t been the case across the state. Prince William Sound is enjoying a banner year for pink salmon, with almost 65 million reported caught by Sunday.
All-species catches have topped 70 million in that region, making up almost half the state’s total to date.
In Bristol Bay, a harvest of 36 million sockeye salmon came in close to expectations, though most fish arrived late in the season there. The last two weeks of fishing turned a busted fishing year into one that met forecasts. Statewide, 220 million fish are expected.
In other fishing news, the National Marine Fisheries Service will allow non-pollock Gulf of Alaska trawlers to catch up to 1,600 more king salmon as they pursue groundfish species like cod.
In a normal year, trawlers in the western and central Gulf are allowed to incidentally catch up to 2,700 kings while pursuing groundfish other than pollock. Pollock, a much bigger fishery, has a separate king salmon threshhold.
If the fishery hits the cap, it’s forced to shut down.
This year, the non-pollock trawlers hit unexpectedly hit their cap on May 3, shutting down the groundfish fishery. In June, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted 10-1 to allocate 1,600 more king salmon to the non-pollock trawlers and allow them to begin fishing again.
Those fish become available starting today.