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3/2/2013
State projects higher salmon catch in '13

By SCOTT BOWLEN

Daily News Staff Writer

State fishery managers expect a big jump in pink salmon numbers to drive a significant increase in the statewide commercial harvest of salmon this year.

Harvest projections released this week by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game anticipate an overall commercial catch of 178.8 million salmon of all five species during 2013 — 40 percent more than the 127 million salmon landed by the commercial seine, gillnet and troll fishing fleets in 2012.

Nearly all of the projected overall increase would be from pink salmon. The department’s forecast of a 117.8-million pink salmon commercial harvest statewide in 2013 represents an increase of 73 percent over the actual 2012 catch of 68 million pinks.

The department expects higher catches of pink salmon in all regions of Alaska, including Southeast Alaska.

Fish and Game projects that the commercial catch of pink salmon in Southeast Alaska will rise from 21.2 million in 2012 to about 54 million this year. The department qualifies its pink salmon forecast for Southeast with a "confidence interval" of 80 percent, which indicates the actual harvest for 2013 is expected be within a range of 42 million to 67 million fish.

The 2013 statewide projections look favorable for commercial harvesters coming out of a decent 2012 salmon season that earned the fleets a combined total estimated at more than $505 million.

Southeast Alaska fishermen accounted for about $153 million of the 2012 total, according to department data.

Chum salmon was the big earner in Southeast Alaska last year, when commercial harvesters landed about 12.3 million chums with a total value of more than $82 million.

Fish and Game projects a 2013 harvest of about 13.5 million chum salmon in Southeast Alaska. Most of those chums — about 10.8 million fish — are projected to be hatchery-produced fish.

The 2012 catch of pink salmon earned nearly $30 million for commercial fishermen in 2012, according to Fish and Game. Fish buyers paid an average of 41 cents per pound for pinks during that year, down from the 2011 average of 47 cents per pound.

While many of the department’s annual projections are based on five-year average harvests, the projection for pink salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska are calculated using a two-step process using harvest trends adjusted by data from federal surveys of juvenile pink salmon in upper Chatham and Icy straits.

This is the seventh year that Fish and Game has used the juvenile salmon data gathered by the NOAA Fisheries Auke Bay Lab to help generate the annual projection for pink catches in Southeast Alaska.

The results have been forecasts that have proven to be closer to the actual harvests than had projections generated by the earlier methods

"The NOAA Auke Bay Laboratories continues to conduct research that has greatly improved our ability to forecast pink salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska,’ according to the department’s 2013 harvest projection report.

Since 1998, pink salmon catches in Southeast Alaska have been higher, often markedly higher, during odd-numbered years.

Pink salmon have a two-year life cycle.

As such, pinks hatched during 2011 will be returning to spawn in 2013.

And 2011 was a very good year for pink salmon in Southeast Alaska. Commercial fishermen landed more than 59 million pinks valued at about $102.2 million that year.

Some northern districts in the region saw record catches of pink salmon in 2011, which also had a good distribution of pinks throughout Southeast Alaska.

"The 2013 harvest forecast of 54 million pink salmon is well above the recent 10-year average harvest of 37 million pink salmon, but is close to the average harvest over the past five odd years (50.7 million)," states the harvest projection report.

The three other species of salmon are harvested in Southeast Alaska also.

Fish and Game projects a 2013 commercial harvest of 2.39 million coho salmon in the region, up from about 2.08 million coho last year.

The projection for sockeye salmon is down, dipping from a harvest of about 947,000 fish during 2012 to a forecast of 854,000 this year.

Commercial harvesters landed about 282,000 king salmon during the accounting year that ran from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30.

Annual harvest limits for king salmon in Southeast Alaska are established by the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Commission. The commission has not yet set the overall limit for the current accounting year.