Plentiful profit

Forecasters expect abundant salmon catch this season

Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009

Southeast seiners can look forward to a bigger haul of pinks this year, if state fish biologists' annual forecast is on the mark.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

This summer's commercial salmon season overall could be 11th largest salmon season since 1960, an increase due mostly to Southeast pinks.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its forecast Tuesday.

The forecast of a 174.8 million fish catch statewide includes fisheries for all five species of salmon except Southeast's Chinook catch. Last year's statewide catch was 146.1 million fish.

"2009 should be a better year for everybody except for the trollers," said Geron Bruce of the Commercial Fisheries Division.

Trollers have faced drastic cuts in the Chinook catch recently; the allocation is determined by the Pacific Salmon Commission under an international treaty and is due out in the next month.

Fish and Game's forecast is intended to help the industry decide how many fish to gear up for, Bruce said. Other factors besides how much fish is available affect the eventual catch, however, including prices, the number of boats fishing, processor and tender capacity, and the geographical distribution of the fish.

The department has more data for some species and areas than others, so its confidence in each forecast varies. For Bristol Bay sockeye, it has lots of data and high confidence; less so for others.

"The greatest uncertainty lies with the pink salmon forecast, because we have the least data," Bruce said.

That's the biggest leap predicted for this year, though: 41 million pinks in Southeast, up from last year's catch of 16 million but close to the latest 10-year average of 46.7 million fish. The pink forecast is based on past harvests adjusted with abundance data.

"If this forecast is accurate, (Southeast) seiners should have a pretty good year," Bruce said.

The Southeast sockeye harvest, most of which is caught by gillnetters with a smaller proportion caught by seiners, also might pick up this year if the forecast is right. Last year's harvest was the lowest since 1975.

Southeast's total projected catch is about 56.2 million fish. That's up from the 28 million fish caught last year, and closer to the 58.6 million fish caught in 2007.

A bigger overall catch doesn't necessarily mean more money, depending on prices. Last year in Southeast, the 28-million-fish salmon harvest was lower but more valuable than the year before, at more than $117 million. The 58.6 million fish caught in 2007 were worth $99 million.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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