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Alaska salmon harvest, down from previous three years, winds down

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times

Harvests by commercial fleets jumped by another 5 million fish for the week ended Aug. 24, pushing the preliminary total to 112,396,000 salmon of all species, with fall harvests of chums and silvers still to come.

Preliminary state harvest statistics show that the Prince William Sound harvest has reached 29,882,000 fish, including 22,678,000 pink, 3,658,000 sockeye, 3,496,000 chum, 39,000 coho and 12,000 Chinooks.

The harvest of pink salmon in Prince William Sound has come up some 10 million fish short of the forecast of 32 million hatchery fish. Fishing activity has slowed down in the Cordova district, said Tommy Sheridan, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"Not too much happening," Sheridan said."Most of the boats have stood down and many processors have stopped buying fish. It is effectively over. Some fishing is going on, but it is fairly limited. The hatcheries are in the process of collecting brood and conducting egg take."

At Kodiak, the harvest of pink salmon rose from 13.9 million to 15.7 million fish over the past week, but was slowing down. State biologists said the Kodiak management area’s sockeye salmon commercial harvests had reached 1.9 million fish, which is below the average for this time of year.

In Southeast Alaska, state biologists announced Aug. 28 that there will be no more directed pink salmon openings this season. The cumulative regional seine harvest of pink salmon was estimated at 18 million fish, including harvests of 121,000 from the Aug. 26-27 fishing period, said biologists, who had begun monitoring the fall chum runs.

Harvesters of the fall chum salmon run in the Lower Yukon were in an upbeat mood in Emmonak, where the fall chums were making a strong run. That was making up somewhat for the summer chum run that started late because of Alaska Department of Fish & Game restrictions to allow escapement of enough Chinook salmon upriver.

Jack Schultheis, sales manager for Kwik’Pak Fisheries, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, said they still lack sufficient harvest to meet market demand. About 40 percent of Kwik’Pak’s chums are slated for overseas markets in Europe. The rest, along with the coho salmon harvest, are heading to domestic markets. Most of the chum harvest is filleted but some, along with the coho harvest, goes out to buyers headed and gutted.

Kwik’Pak is flying out less and shipping more fish this season to both domestic and overseas markets by way of shippers in Dutch Harbor. Fish is processed in Emmonak, then shipped to Dutch Harbor, where it is containerized for further shipment, Schultheis said.

While this has not been a record year for salmon harvests, it is still above 100 million fish, said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the Alaska Division of Commercial Fisheries.

“Salmon production is always variable,” Bruce said. ‘”It depends on certain environmental conditions. It goes up and down year by year, so we’re not out of the ordinary in that respect. Environmental conditions for this year’s returning fish were not as favorable as in more recent years.

“The environmental conditions that affect these fish span multiple years and it varies with the species,” he said.

The last time the overall statewide salmon harvest was less than 112 million fish was in 1982, Bruce said. The current preliminary data would put this year’s harvest at 28th or 29th overall out of 52 years of harvest since 1960, he said.

This year’s harvest is definitely a dip. Last year the statewide salmon harvest was 176 million fish, in 2010 it was 175 million, in 2009, 162 million and in 2008, 146 million fish.

This story was originally published by The Cordova Times and is reprinted here with permission. Contact Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions at mbauman(at)thecordovatimes.com