Pinks to lead Southeast salmon harvest again in 2015
JUNEAU — In 2013, pink salmon returns in Southeast Alaska broke records, leading commercial fishermen to catch more than 100 million salmon from all five species for the first time ever in the region. Biologists don’t expect this year to be quite as stellar, but pinks, which tend to run in odd year cycles, are expected to carry the year for commercial fishermen once again.
For Southeast Alaska, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts a total harvest of a little more than 1.1 million sockeye, 2.9 million coho, 58 million pinks, and a little less than 9.3 million chum (including 7.4 million hatchery chum) for a total, excluding chinook, of 71.3 million salmon caught in Southeast Alaska.
In Alaska as a whole, it predicts 54,000 chinook (excluding Southeast and Yakutat; as of press time the Pacific Salmon Commission hadn’t yet published the area’s quota), about 58.8 million sockeye, 4.9 million coho, 140.3 million pinks, and 17.2 million chum.
The ADF&G report stated that forecasting the 2015 pink salmon harvest in Southeast “was made exceptionally challenging” by the banner 2013 catch for the fish. That year’s catch of 95 million pink salmon was “nearly 20 million fish higher than any other pink salmon harvest since commercial fisheries began in Southeast Alaska in the late 1800s,” the report said.
“The 2013 harvest was way outside the range of anything we’d seen before,” said Ketchikan-based regional research biologist Steve Heinl, who contributed to the forecast. “That gives us a lot of uncertainty about using our information to come up with a forecast … sometimes it’s prudent to be cautious.”
In 1999, pinks also had a very big run, leading to the previous record, he said, but 2001 did not have a run close to that.
“Big huge runs like that are sometimes a bit of an anomaly,” he said. “Forecasting is a sucker’s game.”
In general, he said, people have a poor track record predicting pink salmon runs. The National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s Auke Bay Laboratories’ and fish biologist Joe Orsi’s counts of juvenile salmon have “greatly improved our ability to forecast pink salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska,” Heinl and Pink and Chum Salmon Project Leader Andy Piston wrote in the report.
The 10-year average harvest of pinks is 41 million, they said.
“A harvest of (the predicted) magnitude would be in the top 10 harvests since 1960,” they wrote.
The department doesn’t make a formal forecast for chum salmon, as the majority of chum caught in Southeast Alaska start their lives in hatcheries, Heinl said.
“One thing we have noted is the last couple of years, chum salmon runs have been below normal,” he said. “They didn’t meet escapement objectives in some parts of Southeast.”
Outlooks for the Stikine and Taku rivers, both of which, as transboundary rivers, are managed separately from the overall chinook quota in Southeast, are average to a little worse than average, biologists said.
Juneau Area Management Biologist for commercial fisheries Dave Harris said the Taku’s chinook forecast is for 26,100 king salmon, which is “pretty similar to what we saw last year, but definitely on the low side of things.”
This is a low production period for kings in the Taku, he said, with the 10-year average at 34,900 fish.
They predict sockeye will have an above average return of 216,000 on the Taku; an average return is 175,000. They’re predicting a run size of 158,000 for coho, which is below the long term average but similar to the last 10 years.
They don’t generally make forecasts for pink and chum on the Taku River.
Troy Thynes, Petersburg/Wrangell area management biologist for commercial fisheries, said chinook predictions for the Stikine River are 30,200 fish, which is higher than the last two years, lower than the forecast in 2012, and generally in keeping with recent patterns.
“It’s kind of a mediocre forecast,” he said.
The preseason forecast for sockeye is 171,200, he said, which is better than it’s been since 2011, but just a little below the 10-year average. That average, he said, includes a few big years.
The Stikine River supports two gillnet fisheries; the chinook forecast is enough for a bit of allowable catch, but not a commercial fishery, he said.
There is no official forecast for coho salmon, which are also managed under the treaty provisions, he said.
“As we get in-season information and forecasts, we’ll base any management decisions (off of that),” he said.
The forecasts for chinook and sockeye should be coming in toward the end of May.
Outlook for local sport fishermen
The Pacific Fishery Management Council is deciding chinook quotas this week, though their website states “the news is good, with strong stocks up and down the coast.”
NOAA Fisheries Science Center’s predictions are a little more muted, saying warm waters out in the Gulf of Alaska could negatively affect both returning chinook and coho salmon.
Daniel Teske, Juneau area management biologist for the Division of Sport Fish, said right now anglers are allowed a bag and possession limit of one king salmon 28 inches or longer.
That number, noted in an April 1 news release, is because of poor Taku River king salmon production.
As most sport fishermen know, the department has three king salmon hatchery release sites in the Juneau area — Douglas Island Pink and Chum, or DIPAC; Fish Creek on North Douglas and at the mouth of Auke Creek. At those designated terminals in June, July and August, anglers will be able to catch four king salmon of any size. Those regulations will come out in an emergency order and news release in late May, Teske said.
Teske expects the coho return to be “fairly decent” both for wild and hatchery salmon.