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Prince William Sound salmon forecast: Sockeyes up, kings sink

Preliminary forecasts for Copper River salmon fisheries for 2013 predict a slight increase in sockeye harvests by all user groups, but a plunge in the catch of kings.

The forecast issued Jan 2 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts a run of 2,240,000 reds into the Copper River fishery, up from the forecast of 2,150,000 fish in 2012, with a harvest of 1,500,000 reds, up from 1,430,000 fish in 2012.

Chinook forecasts, by comparison, are bleak, with a run forest of 46,000 kings, and estimated harvest by all user groups at 20,000. This compares with the 2012 run forecast of 54,000 kings, and harvest estimate of 27,000 fish.

Biologists said the common property harvest forecast for sockeyes was calculated by subtracting the Gulkana Hatchery brood stock, hatchery surplus and wild stock escapement goal needs from the total run forecast. The 2013 run of reds will be composed primarily of returns from brood years 2008 and 2009, with five-year-old fish (brood year 2008) expected to predominate Copper River Delta and upper Copper River runs, biologists said.

The total 2013 run of sockeyes forecast is close to the recent 10-year average total run of 2.28 million. If realized the 2013 forecast total run would be the 11th largest since 1980.

The king salmon total run forecast, by comparison, is 23,000 fish below the 14-year average (1999-2012 average of 70,000), biologists said. If realized, the 2013 forecast total run would be the 5th smallest since 1980.

For Prince William Sound, the run of wild chum salmon rose from a 2012 forecast of 236,000 fish to 512,200, with a harvest estimate of 312,000 wild chum, up from the 2012 harvest estimate of 36,000 fish.

If the 2013 wild chum forecast of 512,200 is realized, it would be the 20th largest since 1970, biologists said. For comparison, the estimated total run size was greater than 1.3 million from 1981-1988, but has not surpassed 1 million since 1988.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has not produced hatchery chum salmon forecasts since 2004, because hatchery operators were producing forecasts for their releases. The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association forecasts for 2013 are available at http://pwsac.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/2013-PWSAC-Forecast.pdf

The Prince William Sound forecast also includes the natural run pink salmon total at 6,200,000 humpies, up from the 2012 forecast of 4,400,000; with a harvest of 4,751,000, up from the 2012 harvest forecast of 3,210,000.

Biologists said the last few years have been one of the longest periods of cold conditions as measured by Pacific Decadal Oscillation index values, and the large number of pink salmon returning to Prince William Sound in 2010 spent much of their ocean lives in warmer El Niño conditions.

With the passing of the 2009-2010 El Niño, Pacific Decadal Oscillation values again became negative in June 2010 and remain negatives through November 2012, they said. The average 2012 Pacific Decadal Oscillation index rank as the eighth coldest in 100 years. Because cold ocean conditions are generally associated with lower salmon productivity, the pink salmon run in 2013 may be smaller than projected, they said.

The preceding report was first published in The Cordova Times and is published here with permission. Reach Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions at mbauman(at)thecordovatimes.com