Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chasing 138,000,000 salmon

Yesterday was the first day of summer, and Alaska's salmon flower is just starting its annual bloom.

State biologists predict a statewide commercial catch this season of 138 million salmon — 143,000 Chinook, 45.8 million sockeye, 69.1 million pinks, 18 million chums and 4.4 million coho.

Sounds like a passel of fish, but if the forecast proves accurate this will be a relatively poor year compared to last season's 162 million salmon, worth $370 million at the docks.

Fishermen have landed just over 2 million fish so far, according to the state's latest tally.

We've been feeling positive vibes on the markets and prospects for higher prices.

But the value of this year's salmon crop won't be clear until after our main money fishery, Bristol Bay sockeye, wraps up in late July.

Bristol Bay accounted for $128 million of that $370 million statewide haul in 2009.

Anyway, it's still quite early. But let's cruise around the coast for a look at regional fisheries:

Southeast Alaska: Things got off to a bummer start at the Stikine and Taku rivers, where weak Chinook runs kept early gillnet fisheries closed. For purse seiners, this will be an off year for pink salmon with a harvest of 19 million expected. Last year saw 38 million taken.

Prince William Sound: It's shaping up as a sorry season for the famed Copper River. Through June 14, fishermen had landed 8,441 Chinook, roughly half the number anticipated by that date. The sockeye story is even worse: 245,455 landed, a third of expectations. On a brighter note, the state Department of Fish and Game reports "early and robust returns of chum salmon" to the Wally Noerenberg Hatchery.

Kenai Peninsula: The action in Upper Cook Inlet hasn't really begun yet. The sonar for counting Kenai River sockeye goes into operation July 1. Fish and Game reports a "very poor" catch of 18,800 sockeye through June 16 in Resurrection Bay.

Kodiak: Chinook and sockeye runs into the Karluk River are weak again. The Alitak District sockeye harvest "is below average and is either weak or late," Fish and Game says.

Chignik: Looking good! Sockeye escapement is above recent averages with nearly 134,000 fish passing the Chignik River weir through June 16.

Alaska Peninsula: Sockeye returns to the Northern District appear to be late. The South Peninsula seine fleet is fishing now following a voluntary standdown to avoid netting chum salmon bound for other regions.

Bristol Bay: The real fireworks won't start until close to the Fourth of July. The forecast calls for a massive sockeye catch of 30.5 million sockeye, comparable to last year's take. Through the weekend, the catch stood at fewer than 70,000 fish. A couple of openers targeting Chinook in the Nushagak District produced lousy results.

Yukon River: Another weak Chinook return is expected, with no commercial fishing likely. "The Yukon River Chinook salmon run is later than average, likely because of late coastal ice breakup," Fish and Game reports.

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