Salmon catch tops 219 million fish; 15% above forecast

Alaska’s 2021 salmon catch has topped 219 million fish, which is 15% higher than the preseason forecast of 190 million.

The two biggest money makers exceeded expectations the most. The sockeye haul came in at 54 million compared to the predicted 46.5 million reds.

Similarly, the pink salmon catch of nearly 151 million swamped the projection by 27 million humpies.

And although the run of chum salmon was disappointing, falling about 4 million short of the 15.3 million projection, nearly 5 million chums were caught since Aug. 1, “making it one of the three largest chum harvests in the last decade,” according to fishery economist Dan Lesh, at the McKinley Research Group, who compiles weekly tracking reports for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

The coho catch of nearly 2.3 million is 1.6 million shy of the forecast, and a harvest of 244,000 Chinook salmon is 25,000 below expectations.

But despite the overall bigger salmon catch, smaller fish sizes will lead to less impressive harvest totals and revenues for Alaska fishermen. Yet, with higher dock prices across the board, it will still produce a good payday.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will release the catch totals, fish prices and overall revenues by region in early October.

As salmon season draws to a close, many other fall fisheries are underway or gearing up.

In Southeast, beam trawlers are on the grounds for a third go at northern pink shrimp totaling 650,000 pounds in two districts. The spot shrimp fishery opens on Oct. 1 for 457,300 pounds, and the Dungeness crab reopens that same day for a two-month fishery.

Southeast’s sea cucumber fishery opens to divers on Oct. 4 with a catch of nearly 1.9 million pounds. Diving for red sea urchins also opens with a harvest set at nearly 3 million pounds.  

Alaska halibut fishermen have taken 70% of their nearly 19 million pound catch limit with less than six million pounds left to go. Homer, Seward, Kodiak and Juneau are the top ports for landings and dock prices remain at over $6 per pound, topping $7 at Homer, reflecting continuing high demand for fresh fish. 

Alaska and West Coast catches aren’t satisfying American’s appetites for halibut and trade data show that the U.S. has imported 10.3 million pounds of Atlantic halibut from Eastern Canada so far this year valued at nearly $77 million.

Gulf of Alaska Tanner crab

look strong for this winter

Unlike in the Bering Sea, there’s good news for crab harvests in the Gulf of Alaska.

A huge cohort of Tanner crab that biologists have been tracking in the westward region for three years showed up again in this summer’s survey.

“We were optimistic and we did find them again. Pretty much all the way across the board from Kodiak all the way out to False Pass we found those crab and in good quantity,” said Nat Nichols, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak.

The bairdi Tanners are the larger cousins of snow crab (opilio Tanners) found in the Bering Sea.

“The very, very rough preliminary numbers look like we’ve at least hit the minimum abundance thresholds in all three areas of Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula. We’re excited about that.”

The last Tanner opener was in 2020 for 400,000 pounds, the minimum abundance number for a district to have a fishery. A fleet of 49 boats participated in that fishery and averaged over $4 per pound for the harvestable male crabs that typically weigh between 2 to 4 pounds each.

“A Tanner crab is getting to be legal sized around age four or five, and then they start to die of natural causes or age out of the population by around seven or eight,” Nichols explained. “Once they start to become legal, we can expect them to hang around for potentially three years, and there’ll be more small crab behind them so you can kind of think of this as the front edge.”

The new cohort, Nichols said, is one of the largest ever. It appears to be comprised of two big year classes with a broad range of sizes that could support several years of fishing.

“In 2019 the estimate was 223 million and then in 2020 it was down to 108 million. Every year, that number gets smaller, because there’s pretty high mortality on smaller crab. Anybody who’s cut open a halibut stomach knows that,” Nichols said.

“And a lot of those are females, so they won’t be in the fishery. But the male crab are getting bigger and approaching legal size. So even though you’re seeing estimates go down quite a bit, it’s still going to turn into a pretty good number of legal grab in the water.”

Several more regulatory calculations must still be met as managers move their way through the survey data before a 2022 Tanner fishery gets a green light.

A Tanner announcement will be made in early November for the fisheries which open in mid-January.

Tanner crab is always spelled with a capital T because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross, which explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s.


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