Average SE pink salmon harvest predicted in 2014

KETCHIKAN (AP) — Records numbers of pink salmon caught in southeast Alaska waters in 2013 should return closer to average numbers next year, according to state biologists.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts a commercial catch of about 22 million pink salmon in Southeast, the Ketchikan Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/1hSqwqz ).

Fishermen this year caught a whopping 94 million pink salmon.

The lower number is far closer to what has been the norm in recent even-number years. Commercial fishermen in 2012 caught 21.3 million pinks. The lowest catch in recent years was about 11.6 million in 2006.

The department makes forecasts from harvest trends and federal trawl surveys of juvenile pink salmon in Upper Chatham and Icy straits.

Pink salmon have a life cycle of two years. A pink salmon spawned in 2006 would travel to open ocean in 2007 and return to a home stream to spawn and die in 2008.

The number of spawning salmon reaching a stream is a good indicator of the strength of the return in two years. Runs were strong in both odd and even years until 2006, when the catch fell from 45 million in 2004 and 59 million in 2005 to just 11.6 million in 2006.

"Before 2006, our odd- and even-year pinks were both mostly performing at high levels," said research biologist Andy Piston.

Since the anomaly in 2006, the department has seen an even-odd pattern of good and poor years.

The department said the Gulf of Alaska was usually warm in 2005 when the 2006 pink salmon returnees were feeding. Predators usually not in the gulf were also present. Other factors could have been involved, Piston said, but whatever affected the pink salmon survival also affected other salmon species.

"Not only did our pink salmon returns come back poor the next year (2006), but we also saw real poor survival rates for the sockeye that went to sea in 2005, and also chum salmon that went to sea in 2005," Piston said.

No matter what the forecast is, Fish and Game bases its in-season management on the actual returns.

"They make sure it looks like there are adequate numbers to meet escapement needs," Piston said.


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