FISH FACTOR: Second straight season of strong sockeyes; pinks few but big
Two big fish stories have been spawned so far by the 2016 Alaska salmon season: 1) sockeyes save the day, and 2) colossal pinks.
A larger than expected sockeye salmon catch that has topped 50 million will salvage a summer that has seen lackluster catches of other salmon species, notably, those hard to predict pinks.
“I think if you’re a Bristol Bay fisherman, you’re probably pretty happy, and if you fished anywhere else in the state, it probably hasn’t been a great season for you,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The Alaska salmon catch so far of 88 million fish is little more than halfway to the preseason forecast of 161 million salmon, down 40 percent from the 2015 harvest.
Pink salmon, the “bread and butter” fish for the fleet, were projected to come up short this year, and so they have in the big three producing areas: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak.
“We really haven’t been any bright spots in terms of pink salmon across the state,” Bowers said.
The Panhandle fleet has taken less than 10 million pink salmon so far on a forecast of 34 million.
“Right now it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll hit that number,” he said “We would’ve expected to see more catch at this point. We still have half the run to come in, so it should be well over 20 million.”
The story’s the same at Prince William Sound where pink catches were at 9 million on a forecast of 32 million.
“We are below average in terms of run timing so it’s unlikely we’ll hit the forecast there,” Bowers said.
Kodiak’s pink salmon fishery is being called the slowest since the 1970s, with only 1.5 million humpies taken so far.
“The catch and the escapement is currently running at about a quarter the strength it should be at this time of the season,” said James Jackson, regional manager at Kodiak.
What’s running big is the size of the fish, which usually weigh about four pounds on average.
“I’ve had a 14 pound pink on my scale,” said Tyler O’Brien, a Kodiak salmon tender operator. “And lots of 10-pounders.”
Jackson concurred that a parade of porky pinks has come through his office.
“The larger size is an indication of no competition for food out in the ocean, and that usually means you have a weak run. It’s not always true, but yeah, big pinks,” he said.
(The world record pink salmon weighed 14.49 pounds and was caught in 2001 in the Skykomish River, Wash., according to landbigfish.com.)
So far the total Alaska pink salmon catch is at 25 million; the forecast called for 90 million. Perhaps the puny catch will help push up disappointing prices for pinks, which were in the 20 cents per pound range at the Alaska docks.
The opposite is true for Alaska’s sockeye salmon fishery, which has yielded larger than expected catches already topping 51 million fish. The bulk of the “big money” fish, of course, came from Bristol Bay where a catch of 38 million was far larger than expected.
“Historically, the 2016 season will probably be the largest sockeye harvest at Bristol Bay since 1995,” Bowers said.
Ditto the Alaska Peninsula, which produced a nearly 6 million sockeye salmon harvest. Upper Cook Inlet also is having a good red run, with 2.5 million taken so far.
“With a statewide sockeye harvest over 50 million fish statewide,” Bowers added, “that will rank in Alaska’s all-time top 10.”
Beam trawling continues for coon and side stripe shrimp in Southeast waters. The summer Dungeness fishery is going strong with crabbers averaging $3.05 per pound, up slightly from last year.
Scallopers are still dropping dredges around Yakutat and in other parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea.
Lingcod fisheries are ongoing in Southeast Alaska, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, primarily by small boats using jig and hand troll gear.
Alaska longliners have taken 64 percent of their 17 million pound halibut catch limit with 6 million pounds left to go. Kodiak and Homer remain nearly tied for ports with the most landings.
Fishing fleets are targeting Pacific Ocean Perch, rockfish, cod, flounders and other groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The Gulf reopens to pollock fishing on Aug. 25.
The golden king crab fishery along the Aleutians opened Aug. 1 with a catch below 6 million pounds for the first time in decades. A 25 percent cut was made due to stock declines in the western district.
Norton Sound’s summer red king crab fishery closed in late July after about a month that yielded over 440,000 pounds of crab.
The public has until Aug. 18 to submit agenda change requests to the state Board of Fisheries for its upcoming meeting cycle that begins in mid-October. The Board will take up fisheries in Cook Inlet, Kodiak and statewide king and Tanner crab.
Dutch Harbor stories
“Deadliest Catch” producer Christian Skovly can’t get Dutch Harbor out of his mind, after spending time there while filming the popular reality show.
“After talking to people both in town and on the boats, I would hear these stories about Dutch Harbor and how it used to be; and I found it fascinating,” he said.
After he researched the town’s history and found it wanting, it fueled his interest in creating a history project based on personal stories.
“I am hoping to add a different perspective of this boom town,” Skovly said. “We know Dutch Harbor from the television show, but the in-town stuff is rarely visited, it is all mostly out on the water. Many people have told me that it was the Wild West in the middle of nowhere, where a lot of money was being made and where a lot of interesting people and stories happened.”
Skovly hopes to hear from bartenders, police officers, cannery workers, families and anyone who lived and worked in Dutch Harbor during the 1970’s and 80’s. He said the stories he gets will dictate the shape his project will take. Contact him at [email protected].