FISH FACTOR: Pink surge, strong sockeye harvest beats 2021 forecast
Alaska’s 2021 salmon harvest has blown past the forecast and by Aug. 27 had topped 201 million fish, well above the 190 million projected at the start of the season.
The catch was bolstered by a surge of pink salmon to the three top producing regions — Prince William Sound, Southeast and Kodiak — combined with strong landings of sockeyes.
“Pink salmon runs are over 95 percent complete, based on average run timing. Effort drops off quickly this late in the season, so it is difficult to predict where that harvest will end up,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“My guess is up to another half million late-run sockeye salmon and perhaps 10 million pink salmon will be harvested. If that occurs, we will end up with around 143 million pink salmon, 54 million sockeye, and 207 million total salmon harvested. 2021 could end up being the sixth-largest sockeye and sixth- or seventh-largest pink salmon harvest on record.”
Pinks are the “bread and butter” catch for Alaska salmon fishermen and total landings were approaching 137 million, well above the 124 million projected for this season.
At Prince William Sound, which had a catch forecast of about 25 million pinks, nearly 62 million had crossed the docks.
“Wild stocks are returning stronger than anticipated (to PWS) given the uncertainty about spawning success from the 2019 parent year which was negatively impacted by drought conditions,” said the weekly ADFG inseason summary.
Southeast Alaska humpy landings had topped 40 million on a forecast of 28 million fish. At Kodiak, the pink harvest was on target to reach 22 million. The Alaska Peninsula also has had a strong catch nearing 11 million humpies.
The bigger catches combined with increased prices for all salmon will mean a nice payday for Alaska fishermen, well above the $295 million from the 2020 season.
Base prices for pinks were averaging 35 cents per pound, up a nickel from last year when the catch totaled about $62 million.
Sockeye base prices, which last year averaged just 76 cents per pound, were at $1.25 to fishermen at Bristol Bay, making that catch worth $231 million to fishermen. The value will increase substantially as bonuses and other prices adjustments are added in.
Base prices for sockeyes at Kodiak were reported at $1.45 to $1.50 and $1.75 at Southeast.
For the other salmon species, chum catches had picked up and were nearing nine million on a forecast calling for 15.3 million. At Kodiak the base price for chums had doubled to 50 cents per pound and nearly doubled to 85 cents at Southeast.
Coho catches typically near their peak around this time and a statewide catch of 3.8 million is predicted. For chinook salmon, the catch had topped 204,000 out of a projected 296,000 kings.
The Southeast fleet of 713 trollers was averaging $6.68 per pound for chinook ($74 per fish vs. $70.42 for a barrel of oil) compared to $5.07 last year. Troll-caught cohos were fetching a whopping $2.84 per pound and $1.03 for chums, according to ADFG.
Cod catch shares
Fishery managers are set to implement a catch share program for cod trawlers in the Bering Sea. Shares would be divided up based on harvest history over certain years.
The goal is to make the fishery safer and more valuable, and to end the race for cod that results in high bycatch levels of unwanted species.
The measure has the support of the Seattle-based trade group United Catcher Boats that represents more than 70 trawlers and the Pacific Seafood Processors Association that includes eight shoreside processing companies.
A low of 29 trawl boats and a high of 69 fished for Bering Sea cod each year from 2004 to 2020, according to a report by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council which oversees Alaska fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore.
Documents will be posted to the NPFMC website and public comments will be accepted from Sept. 17- 29. A final decision will be made at the NPFMC meeting Oct. 10-15 tentatively at the Egan Center.
Jim Balsiger, director of NOAA Fisheries Alaska plans to retire on Nov. 30. Balsiger has headed the Alaska agency since 2000 and plans to remain in Juneau after retirement, according to the Deckboss blog. No word yet on his replacement.
Frances Leach, the executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska since 2018, is leaving to launch Capitol Compass, a lobbying firm in Juneau.
“I’m really excited to continue lobbying for an industry that I really have a lot of respect for. But then also be able to lobby for other things that I care about greatly like environmental issues and nonprofits,” she told KFSK in Petersburg.
Prior to her role at UFA, which represents 36 member groups, Leach worked at ADFG as staff to the state Board of Fisheries.
Applicants for the UFA position are being accepted through Sept. 24. Salary is dependent upon experience; lobbying records show Leach’s most recent UFA salary was $95,000. Send applications to UFA vice-president Rebecca Skinner at [email protected].
Fukushima water release
Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, plans to meet with fishing communities before finalizing its plans to release 250 million gallons of treated but still radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean within two years.
The water has been stored in massive tanks at Tepco’s Fukushima nuclear plant that was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2011.
Reuters reported that a senior official said: “We haven’t had direct consultations with fisheries regarding the discharge,” and added that the plans would be “open to public consultation.”
The water, which was contaminated by melted uranium fuel from damaged reactors and is stored in huge holding tanks, is enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Tepco said it costs about 100 billion yen ($910 million) to treat and store the water and “space is running out so it needs to release it to the ocean.”
The company plans to dilute the water more than 100 times with seawater to ensure it is within regulatory limits on radiation before pumping it through a tunnel under the seabed to a discharge point less than one mile offshore.
The Japanese government in April called it “the most practical solution” and said “it will do its utmost to provide compensation to fishermen for any damages.”