Fish Factor: Southeast halfway to projected pink salmon catch

 

August 12, 2021 | View PDF



Alaska’s salmon landings have passed the season’s midpoint and by Aug. 7 the statewide catch had topped 116 million fish. State managers are calling for a projected total 2021 harvest of 190 million salmon, a 61% increase over 2020.

Most of the salmon being caught now are pinks, with Prince William Sound topping the list at 35 million humpies, well over the projection of 25 million.

Pink salmon catches at Kodiak remained sluggish at just over three million so far, out of a forecast calling for more than 22 million.

Southeast was seeing a slight uptick, with pink catches nearing 14 million out of a projected 28 million.

The pink salmon harvest usually peaks in mid-August. As of Aug. 7, the statewide catch was over 57 million, out of a pre-season forecast of 124 million humpies for the season.

For chum salmon the harvest remains bleak, with Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula the only regions tracking well for catches. The statewide catch had barely topped six million out of a projected 15.3 million fish.

The coho peak is typically in early September and harvests are climbing steadily, but at a pace less than half the five-year average.

Alaska sockeye salmon catches of nearly 52 million so far have blown past the forecasted 46.6 million. Over 40 million are from Bristol Bay and more than 6 million from the Alaska Peninsula.

Salmon slump

No Alaska region has been hit harder by dismal salmon returns this summer than communities on the Yukon River, where the summer chum run of just 153,000 is the lowest on record.

“This is really quite scary for everyone. These runs are low enough that no one on the river is subsistence fishing, and so it’s very dismal. Everybody in the communities on the full river drainage, are feeling the hardship,” Serena Fitka, director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, told radio station KYUK in Bethel.

Nearly 10,000 pounds of chum and king salmon have been donated by Bristol Bay fishermen and processors with logistical assists by SeaShare and Kwik’pak Fisheries in Emmonak to send salmon to 11 villages.

Kwik’pak, typically a top employer each summer, has been able to put only a handful of people to work for a few days helping with the distribution, said general manager, Jack Schultheis.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy directed an $75,000 to purchase salmon from Alaska processors for donations to the region. The Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Association of Village Council Presidents are helping with distribution.

More fish action

As always, lots of other fisheries are going on across Alaska besides salmon.

In Southeast, about 160 crabbers will wrap up a two-month Dungeness crab fishery on Aug. 15. State managers expect the catch to top 2.25 million pounds, with another opener set for October 1.

The Panhandle’s spot shrimp fishery remains open in some regions through Aug. 30, with a 400,000-pound harvest limit.

Alaska’s halibut landings are slightly ahead of last year at this time, with nearly 9.9 million pounds crossing the docks by Aug. 7. That’s 53% of the catch limit of roughly 19 million pounds.

Halibut prices usually tank during the summer but that’s not the case this year and fishermen are fetching near or over $6 a pound at most ports. Payouts at Homer were $7.25, $7.65 and $7.85, depending on halibut size, with Seward buyers paying a nickel less.

Mariculture

means money

Ninety new founding members responded to the call to help shape the new Alaska Mariculture Alliance, a private nonprofit successor to a five-year task force formed in 2016 by then-Gov. Bill Walker. Their goal is to create a sustainable industry for growing shellfish and seaweeds to benefit Alaska’s economy and communities.

The group represents a diverse range of experienced growers to newcomers, said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which administrated the task force and is doing the same for the mariculture alliance. It also includes representatives from Alaska Native corporations, salmon hatcheries, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the Aleutian Pribilof Community Development Association.

Along with boosting shellfish and seaweed farming, a priority will be getting the Alaska Legislature to pass a bill to allow for more large-scale shellfish enhancement that models the state’s successful salmon hatchery programs.

“There’s been some efforts looking at restoring and enhancing king crab, geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and razor clams, but they’re mostly at an experimental level. They’re not allowed to do larger-scale projects until a regulatory framework is put into place,” Decker explained. “We’re hoping that it will be one of the first bills taken back up and moved along over the finish line in the next session.”

Policy makers are starting to talk more about the positive potential for Alaska mariculture, Decker said, and she believes “we have turned a corner” as proven by several new state and federal hires.

NOAA Fisheries has hired Alicia Bishop as its first ever aquaculture coordinator for the Alaska Region, along with Jordan Hollarsmith as research lead, both based in Juneau. And the University of Alaska Fairbanks has hired seaweed research specialist Schery Amanzor as a professor at its College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences to provide even more expertise.

The state also has added two positions to the Department of Natural Resources to review new mariculture lease applications to reduce the backlog.

“They have now gone from an average review process of 572 days down to 274 days,” Decker said.

There are 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska, plus 35 pending new applications that add up to over 1,631 underwater acres. Only 28 growers are making sales so far.

The ultimate goal of the new mariculture alliance is to facilitate a $100 million mariculture industry by 2038, and many believe that’s very conservative due to increasing demand, especially for seaweeds.

Fish boosters

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is seeking members for its advisory committees to help develop global strategies for the Alaska seafood brand. Committees

include salmon, halibut-sablefish, whitefish, shellfish, international marketing, domestic marketing, communications, customer advisory panel and seafood technical.

The deadline to apply is Sept. 24. Contact struitt@alaskaseafood.org/

 

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