Alaska Peninsula fisheries could harvest more than 20 million salmon if averages stay true

Jun 7, 2017

ADF&G biologists are expecting a drop in Chignik sockeye, an uptick in South Pen pinks, and 826,000 less sockeye harvested in Area M. 

Credit ADF&G

The Alaskan Peninsula extends from the mainland toward the southwest between the waters of Bristol Bay and Kodiak. There are several commercial fisheries included along its shores and in the archipelagos to the west. If the averages of the past five years stay consistent, these districts could collectively harvest more than 20.6 million salmon this 2017 season.

The South Alaska Peninsula district is expected to carry the lion’s share of this catch. While there is no formal forecast for sockeye, area biologists predict a South Pen pink run ranging up to 15.6 million fish, with a pink harvest projected at 12.4 million.

“It’s a decent year,” said area management biologist Lisa Fox—the outlook being far better than last year’s pink harvest, which was part of a statewide bust. However, pink runs during odd years are generally measured against other odd years. “It’s not going to be as strong as that 2015 year,” said Fox.

ADF&G is projecting a South Pen sockeye harvest of 2.26 million, which is based on the recent five year average. There are three sockeye systems with escapement goals in the South Pen: biologists hope to see 15,000 to 20,000 sockeye in Orzinski Lake, 14,000 to 28,000 in Thin Point, and 3,200 to 6,400 in Mortensen Lagoon.

The Chignik sockeye fishery is on the south side of the Peninsula, just west of Kodiak. Chignik’s sockeye forecast is down from last year, but close to the district’s ten year average. Biologists in the region are forecasting a total run of more than 2 million fish, with an expected commercial harvest of 1.2 million.

Chignik has two separate runs, with some overlap. Projections show the larger half of the season’s catch coming from the earlier run. The weir at the Chignik River had already counted 22,000 sockeye through June 4.

“Fish are beginning to show up, and they are looking like nice big fish for Chignik. Usually the early ones are just a little bit on the smaller side. The last couple years we’ve seen smaller than average and they’re looking better this year,” said area management biologist Dawn Wilburn.

A Chignik skipper told KDLG the fleet there is optimistic about the season, especially after one Kodiak buyer posted a $1.40/lb price last week. In Kodiak, the Karluk weir count was already past 125,000 sockeye through Monday, noted as an early start by the ADF&G biologists there.

The North Alaska Peninsula district consists of coastal waters west of Bristol Bay, the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. All five salmon species are fished commercially in Area M. The district’s five year average harvest of all salmon is more than 2.6 million fish, almost entirely sockeye. This year the total harvest is projected at 2.27 million salmon, with 1.93 million sockeye included. That would be down considerably from the 2016 harvest of 3.5 million sockeye. Area M fisherman can continue to fish out to three nautical miles in the Outer Port Heiden section, which draws the ire of Area T permit holders fishing Bristol Bay’s eastern districts.

Without an official forecast, it is difficult to estimate a total catch for the various fisheries on the Alaskan Peninsula. But if averages stay consistent, the lesser districts are projected to catch just under three-fourths of Bristol Bay’s estimated harvest of more than 28 million fish.

Statewide, the salmon harvest this year is expected to top 204 million. That includes 80,000 Chinook and 40.8 million sockeye, majorities of which will come from Bristol Bay. Last year’s harvest of 112 million salmon was 49 million shy of the 2016 preseason forecast, primarily due to a pink fishery that fizzled.

Reach Nick Ciolino at fish@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281.