Fish and Game predicts strong salmon run

Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2004

This year's salmon run looks strong, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's 2004 forecast released Wednesday.

The agency is predicting a statewide run of 196 million fish and a run of about 67.5 million fish in Southeast. Last year's statewide prediction was 150 million and the forecast for Southeast was 63 million.

"We're predicting that it's going to be a little less than what was harvested last year, but bigger than last year's forecast," said Doug Mecum, director of Fish and Game's Commercial Fisheries Division.

Mecum said salmon production has been high the last few years, due primarily to good conditions in the ocean for fish survival.

Fish and Game bases its forecasts on information about previous spawning levels, the number of smolts migrating out, and recent survival rates for hatchery releases. The projections for some fisheries, including the pink salmon fishery in Southeast, also are affected by decreased levels of fishing effort.

The pink run in Southeast is projected at 50 million this year, while the chum run is projected at 13 million.

Pink and chum salmon account for about 90 percent of Southeast's total harvest, said seafood industry analyst Chris McDowell. A rebound in the Japanese chum salmon fishery in the past few years has resulted in a decline in the Southeast salmon fishery's value.

The estimated ex-vessel value of the 2003 fishery is $52.3 million. That figure is preliminary, and the Fish and Game report estimates the final figure may be up to 20 percent higher. The 2003 estimate is the second lowest in more than 17 years. It's higher than the 2002 estimate of $45 million.

"Relative to the rest of the state, Southeast has done OK. Southeast has been the top-earning salmon region in the state for five out of the last seven years," McDowell said.

He said that's because Southeast fishermen catch all five species of salmon, and don't depend on just one or two for their livelihood.

"Since we're closest to the U.S. market and have really a pretty long supply season for those species, we've got a better opportunity to capture value from the U.S. fresh market," McDowell said.

He said the strength of the local halibut and black cod fisheries also help.

According to the Fish and Game report, 2003 saw less participation by commercial fishery permit holders. About 60 percent of seine permits, 80 percent of drift gillnet permits and 60 percent of set gillnet permits were fished.

Most species saw a harvest increase in 2003. The statewide sockeye harvest increased 89 percent from 2002, but still was only the sixth-highest commercial harvest of the species in 10 years. The chinook harvest of 518,000 was the largest commercial harvest of the species since 1953. The coho harvest decreased by 23 percent.

Southeast salmon harvest

(numbers in millions)

2003 2004

catch forecast

Chinook 0.418 0.297

Sockeye 1.53 1.3

Coho 2.5 2.9

Chum 11.1 13

Pink 52.5 50

Total 68.1 67.5

NOTE: Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding. Data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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