Southeast pink salmon forecast for 2023 comes in at significantly lower harvest

State and federal fishery managers are forecasting a commercial harvest of about 19 million pink salmon in 2023 in Southeast Alaska, which would be a “significant drop” from the parent-year harvest of 48.5 million pinks in 2021, according to last week’s announcement from the federal NOAA Fisheries and Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A 19-million fish harvest would be at the high end of the “weak” range (11 million to 19 million fish), according to the announcement, which added that a harvest of that size would be only about 39% of the average harvest (49 million pinks) during the past 10 odd-numbered years.

The announcement notes that a streak of cold weather during the winter of 2021-22 in Southeast might be a factor in one aspect of the information used to develop the lower forecast.

A significant factor in the forecast is data obtained by trawl surveys of juvenile pink salmon conducted jointly by Fish and Game and NOAA Fisheries in June and July in the Icy Straits and upper Chatham Strait area of northern Southeast. The trawl survey results correlate strongly to the harvest of adult pink salmon in the region during the following years, according to the announcement.

“Determining the exact reasons for these patterns and the exact process by which environmental conditions are impacting salmon runs is extremely complicated and likely varies tremendously for individual salmon stocks even within the same year,” said Andy Piston, Southeast pink and chum salmon leader for Fish and Game.

Piston said it’s normal for population numbers to fluctuate depending on the variety of conditions the fish encounter from egg to open ocean. “The more extreme conditions are, the more likely they will influence a good portion of salmon stocks in the region and that can either be environmental conditions that either promote high survival rates or low survival rates.”

The abundance index developed from the trawl surveys in 2022 was the second lowest for an even-year in 26 years of such surveys, according to the announcement.

That was a surprise.

“The low juvenile abundance index in 2022 was unexpected, given generally robust escapements in most of the region in 2021,” stated the announcement.

The announcement said temperature has been a “significant negative covariate” in the forecast model — and that the “most notable environmental event potentially related to brood year 2021 juvenile salmon survival was a record-setting and extended cold snap that encompassed Southeast Alaska from early December 2021 through early January 2022.”

Temperatures in the Ketchikan area, for example, had lows recorded below freezing from Dec. 2 through Jan. 10, with new record low temperatures recorded in December, according to the announcement. Juneau, too, had lows in the single digits or teens for all but one day from Dec. 12 to Jan. 9.

“It is possible that this extended period of freezing temperatures in early winter negatively impacted developing embryos, but we do not know for certain what caused the low juvenile abundance in the 2022 survey,” the announcement stated. “Juvenile pink salmon caught in 2022 survey trawls were near average in size (in length) for the 26-year time series and further growth and survival will depend on favorable resources in the Gulf of Alaska.”

In 2022, commercial fishermen landed about 17.55 million pink salmon in Southeast, according to Fish and Game statistics. The pre-season point estimate forecast for 2022 was 16 million fish, within a range of 10 million to 24 million fish.

The 2021 harvest of 48.5 million pink salmon was markedly higher than the point estimate forecast of 28 million fish (within) a range of 19 million to 42 million fish, while the 2020 catch of about 7.97 million pinks was below the point estimate forecast of 12 million fish (within a range of 7 million to 19 million fish).

“In a typical year for each species in Southeast Alaska, some stocks will do well, others will be average, while others do poorly,” Piston said. “Even in outstanding years, like 2013 for pink salmon (90 million), a few stocks will do poorly and even in poor years, like 2020 for pink salmon (8.1 million harvest) some stocks will do well.”


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