Southeast seiners could double pre-season pink harvest estimate

Southeast Alaska commercial seine fishermen are blazing past pink salmon catch estimates that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicted for the summer season.

Fish and Game in May forecast that seine fishermen would harvest about 19 million pink salmon across Southeast this summer. Bo Meredith, who manages Ketchikan-area commercial fisheries for Fish and Game, said on Aug. 4 that seiners already have likely caught 19 million since the season opened in early July, with more than a month of pink season still to come.

The Southeast seine fishery will operate on a two-days-on/two-days-off schedule until further notice. Seine fishery opening and closing times will shift to 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. beginning approximately Aug. 17 through the end of the pink season, according to Fish and Game.

Seiners’ total pink catch could add up to about 35 million to 40 million pinks by the end of the season, based on current trends, Meredith said.

He said pre-season estimates were biased toward the low side because state and federal researchers conduct their pink salmon population survey in only one location, Icy Strait, and because they expected pink salmon to be hampered by cold winter weather that hit Southeast in 2021.

“What could have inhibited a strong return was that unseasonably long cold spell that we had in the winter of 2021,” Meredith said. “We saw single digits and temperatures in the teens that lasted for five or six weeks. With some of the smaller streams, you just worry that the freeze will go all of the way down into the gravel and kill the eggs. That doesn’t appear to have affected them.”

Seine fishing this summer could remain on pace for August, he said. “The harvest has held up, the sex ratios look average or above average for the timing, there’s not any reason to think that catch will drop off,” Meredith said.

“We’re doing a lot of volume,” Meredith said. “We are starting to see some processors put their boats on some limit for what they can buy. That will slow things down,” he said, adding, “On top of the high pink return, we’re seeing a record chum hatchery return.”

Meredith said processors are uncertain what they can pay fishermen per pound of pink salmon, due in part to the fact that Russia has already put about 400,000 metric tons of pink salmon to market this year. He said fishermen expect to earn about 20 to 25 cents per pound of pink salmon this year.

Pink salmon typically return to their home streams two years after they spawn. Fish and Game in part predicts pink returns based on “odd years” and “even years” to account for the fluctuations of these distinct spawning populations.

“Right now, we’re in a period where even-year returns are significantly lower than odd-year returns,” Meredith said.

In 2021, seiners regionwide caught about 44.5 million pink salmon; the 2023 catch is on pace with the most recent odd year. In 2020, Southeast Alaska seiners caught just about 6 million pink salmon. Regionwide pink salmon catch totals from 2022 are not yet available from Fish and Game.


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