Southeast Alaska commercial salmon fishermen this year could haul in nearly 50 million more fish than in 2006, according to a forecast by the Alaska Department of Fish And Game.
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"We are very optimistic. Overall this should be a boomer year," said Bob Thorstenson Jr. of Juneau, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association.
2007 state forecast:
Total: 179.1 million
Sockeye: 41 million
Coho: 4.8 million
Pink: 108 million
Chum: 24.8 million
2007 Southeast forecast:
Sockeye: 1.5 million
Coho: 2.8 million
Pink: 47 million
Chum: 15.7 million
Total: 67.4 million
2006 actual harvest:
State total: 140.7 million
Sockeye: 1.3 million
Coho: 2.1 million
Pink: 11.7 million
Chum: 14 million
Total: 19.5 million
The recently released forecast predicted that 67.4 million salmon would be harvested in the region this season, compared with a total of 19.5 million salmon in the preliminary 2006 count.
For all salmon species statewide, the commercial catch projection is 179 million, including 789,000 chinook, 40.9 million sockeye, 4.8 million coho, 108 million pink, and 24.8 million chum.
At this time last year, department biologists were expecting a commercial salmon catch of 167 million for the 2006 season. The actual harvest turned out to be 140.7 million, according to the preliminary figures. The discrepancy is relatively common, experts said.
"The forecast of the salmon returns are just really a best-guess idea that the department can give us, so you can try to gear up for it," said Kathy Hansen, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen's Alliance. "Sometimes they are close. Sometimes we are over and sometimes we are under," she said.
The season saw a much lower actual harvest mostly because the overall catch of pink salmon was 35 million lower than the projected 108 million for the state.
Southeast Alaska experienced a very weak 2006 pink salmon run, which was the greatest contributor to that discrepancy, the forecast report said.
"Last year's low harvest was a surprise and was an anomaly," said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the department's division of commercial fisheries.
"You'd have to go back to 1987 and 1988 to find pink salmon runs that low."
Bruce said department biologists attribute the low pink numbers to unusually warm temperatures in 2004 - the critical year for fish harvested during 2006.
The pink salmon run is anticipated to rebound, with a forecast catch of 47 million in Southeast Alaska. Thorstenson said he believes that to be a low estimate and predicts a pink run numbering around 55 million. He also said the market was ready for more pink salmon.
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"The price should be substantially better," he said. "We are gaining a lot of acceptance for pink salmon that we didn't see before."
New markets are opening both within the state and internationally, he said.
Additionally, "We are looking for a very large chum salmon harvest if that forecast materializes. That is significant," Bruce said. Otherwise, the commercial forecast both for Southeast and across the state are largely similar to last year.
If the statewide chum harvest projection of 24.8 million salmon is accurate, it would mean a record harvest in 2007. The statewide projected 2007 chinook salmon harvest of 789,000 salmon would be the second-largest harvest in the past 10 years.
If the 2007 commercial catch reaches the projected 179 million salmon, it would be among the top 10 harvests since 1960.
The forecast sockeye harvest of 40.9 million is on a par with the past three seasons.
The forecasts are based on quantitative projections of next year's salmon run using information on previous spawning levels, smelt out-migrations, returns of sibling age classes, and recent survival rates observed for hatchery releases.
Brittany Retherford can be reached at email@example.com.