As the commercial fishing season for salmon in Southeast Alaska continues toward its conclusion, it’s interesting to see the harvest volume trends for the various salmon species in the region.
The pink salmon harvest, for example, is ticking back upward after three years of poor harvests.
As of Monday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimated that the commercial fishing fleets had landed about 36.4 million pink salmon in the region. That’s above the department’s “point estimate” forecast of 28 million pinks and within its 80% “prediction interval” of 19 to 42 million pinks. It also would be the largest number of pink salmon harvested in Southeast Alaska since 2014, when the fleets landed a total of 37.19 million pink salmon, according to Fish and Game data.
Chum salmon, however, aren’t looking so good. The department estimated that about 3.33 million chum salmon had been landed as of Monday — and that the one-week harvest number had dropped substantially during the most recent statistical week.
The five-year average for chum salmon catches in Southeast Alaska shows that chum catches can bump up for a couple of weeks during this time of year, so the final chum numbers for the season could improve somewhat. Still, 2021 chum landings could be in the same ballpark as the poor catch of 4.65 million chum in 2020 — which was the lowest harvest since the 3.33-million chum catch in 1991. A similarly low return of chum salmon this year would pose a problem to the regional hatchery associations that rely on the cost-recovery harvest of hatchery-produced chum salmon for revenues to finance their operations.
The current catch estimate of about 760,000 coho is running ahead of the 2020 harvest at present, but behind the pace of the 5-year average harvest. The 2021 sockeye salmon harvest of about 874,000 fish to date is tracking with the five-year average, according to department. The five-year average catch for sockeye is about 881,000 fish.
In short, the 2021 commercial fishing season in Southeast Alaska is looking to be a mixed bag, with a big positive being the return to a more-robust harvest of pink salmon in the region. Here’s hoping for a upcoming turnaround in the chum harvest numbers.