The number of pink salmon in 2008 is expected to drop dramatically, according to a state forecast.
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Industry advocates say that's all the more reason to reduce the commercial seine fleet by buying back permits.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a run of about 19 million fish, 40 percent below the average of 47 million fish for Southeast Alaska. That forecast is based on historical data and surveys of fry from 2006 runs. The 2007 catch was 45 million fish.
"We are trying to do buyback so there will be less fishermen fishing, so that in years of lean abundance, there will be enough fish for everyone," said Bob Thorstenson, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association.
"Since next year is going to be so low and it's going to be such a terrible season, we are of the mind to go out on the street and buy back as many permits as we can," Thorstenson said.
About $3 million, managed by Fish and Game, is available to reduce the fleet, according to the department. The money was provided by appropriations from the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.
Another $18 million to $21 million could come as a loan from the National Marine Fisheries Service to be used for the same purpose, pending complete congressional approval, Thorstenson said.
Purse seiners bring in 90 percent of the fish caught in Southeast, in terms of number of fish, and most of those are pink salmon, according to Thorstenson.
The low forecast is a result of lingering effects of a 2004 drought that devastated coastal streams that are snowmelt-dependent. Pinks in streams that were glacier-fed have fared much better.
Pinks have the shortest life cycle of all the salmon species, returning to spawn only two years after being hatched.
The Juneau area is expected to fare better than the rest of Southeast Alaska because area rivers such as the Taku are glacier-fed, and so pink eggs survived the 2004 drought a little better, according to Thorstenson and Fish and Game.
The Juneau area historically has fetched about 15 percent of the region's pink catch, but recently that has climbed to about half the catch, according to Thorstenson.
Fish and Game will base its limits on the commercial pink catch on the actual strength of the run next summer, which is determined by aerial surveys.
"We don't manage to a pre-season forecast at all," said Scott Kelley, regional supervisor for commercial fisheries division.
"The forecast is a way that the department conveys to the industry, primarily the processing industry, what we expect to catch, so they can do their planning, and know how many people to hire," Kelley said.