Pink numbers expected up in 2017 forecast

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its forecast for commercial salmon harvests this year, projecting a strong run of pinks for Southeast in 2017.

If panning out as projected, the news should come as a relief to the region's fishermen after a disappointing 2016 harvest.

The report details last year's commercial salmon season, which had come in about 30 percent lower than forecast. Alaska fishermen caught 112,500,000 salmon in 2016, of which 52.9 million had been sockeye and 39 million coho.

ADF&G is anticipating an overall increase in commercial volume across the state this season, projecting 204 million salmon of all species to be harvested. Sockeye are expected to take a slight hit of 12 million over last year's harvest, while pink salmon may see 102.7 million more according to the forecast.

For Southeast, 55.7 million salmon are projected to return to the region. The majority of these are pink salmon, which at 43 million constitutes a little more than three-fourths the run. The next largest number is to be chum at 8.55 million, 85 percent of which may be through hatchery production. Coho follow at 2.8 million, and sockeye projected at 1.3 million.

In 2016, numbers had come up short for the region, with pink salmon in particular a relative disappointment. Fishermen had brought in only 18.4 million of them, or about 72.8 million pounds. The purse seine harvest brought in the majority of pink salmon, or 15.4 million, 84 percent of the total harvest.

Historically-speaking, the 2016 pink salmon harvest fell below both the recent 10-year and all-time averages, and while considered the lowest even-year return since 2008 was the 37th largest harvest in 54 years.

Though only about half the number, chum brought in about as much poundage as the pinks in 2016. The harvest ranked the 18th best since statehood, though falling below the 10-year average of 10 million fish. In that view, it is important to note that hatchery production have made chum salmon more of a factor in the region's commercial fishery the past three decades, with the yearly average before 1984 only being 1.6 million.

The Region I cumulative commercial salmon harvest by all harvest categories, including hatchery cost recovery, was 31.7 million fish in 2016 (Table 4). Total common property commercial harvest was 26.3 million fish, 90% of total harvest after excluding private hatchery cost recovery, Annette Island Reservation harvests, and miscellaneous harvests.

Though even-year runs tend to be stronger than odd-year returns, 2015 had been a particularly strong year. So comparatively, overall harvest in numbers of salmon in 2016 was only 63 percent that of the previous season. While coho salmon had been the only species to see a slight rise in harvest, pink salmon in particular had only been half what it had been in 2015, with chum only slightly better than three quarters.

Looking ahead, the lion's share of pink salmon this year is anticipated to be harvested in the Prince William Sound region, with around two-thirds of the 55.9 million hatchery-produced. In all, the Prince William pink share would make up constitutes about 40 percent of the state whole.

While the state's central waters – Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay – are projected to have an industrious season, western waters around Kodiak, Chignik, the North and South peninsulas and Aleutian Islands will be about as productive as Southeast, with a total of 52 million salmon projected.

Harvest forecasts were arrived at through quantitative projections based on a combination of collected spawning level data, sibling-age class returns, smolt outmigrations, and observed survival rates for hatchery releases. The report notes that catch levels are influenced by fishing effort, which is in turn driven in part by market conditions as well as the size of the run.

The full report can be accessed online at


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