Chignik fishermen slay record six million humpies

Sep 26, 2017

The unexpected banner pink year filled a gap after the sockeye run came in well below expectations, and helped push the Chignik salmon fishery past and estimated $15 million in ex-vessel value.

A seiner fishing Chignik Lagoon in 2013.
Credit KDLG

An incredible pink salmon run helped the Chignik salmon fishery rebound, after the sockeye run fell well below expectations. The fleet landed just over six million pinks, double the previous biggest harvest since statehood.

Chignik’s sockeye came up short in 2017. Though both the early and late runs made their escapement goals, the harvest was a disappointment, said ADF&G area management biologist Dawn Wilburn.

“The forecast for the total [sockeye] run was 2.2 million, with a harvest of about 1.4 million. And we harvested approximately 850,000 out in the Chignik area this year, so, pretty low,” she said.

Lake and Peninsula Borough’s fishery advisor Chuck McCallum calculated that harvest (about 60 percent of the forecast) was 5.2 million pounds valued at $7.2 million. It was hardly the season the fishermen were expecting, but then the volatile pink run exploded into a record year.

From Chuck McCallum's montly report of fisheries to the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

“The second biggest harvest was, I believe, 2.9 million in 1980. And we harvested over 6 million in the Chignik management area this year. So, this was a big help to the fishermen for sure.”

ADF&G does not produce a formal forecast for the Chignik pinks, but the average harvest of the past five odd years was 1.4 million, so the record-busting catch came as quite a surprise. Elsewhere along the Alaska Peninsula, and Kodiak and apparently Cook Inlet, too, the pink run of 2017 has been bigger than expected. The fleet and buyers have been pleased with the abundance, especially after 2016’s pink run was a total bust.

Pinpointing reasons behind the pink salmon run’s variability is not easy to do, said Wilburn.

“Around this area, the even years are typically smaller than the odd years, but why it was so poor last year, and so much better this year, is hard to say. It could be feed conditions in the ocean, first year survival, it’s really difficult to tell.”

The six million pinks harvested, according to McCallum’s calculations, were probably worth almost $6 million. Along with $1.4 million from the 547,000 chum landed, $343,000 from a coho fishery that saw little late season effort, and $32,000 from the 3,800 Chinook harvested, the Chignik salmon fishery likely went past $15 million in ex-vessel value in 2017.

dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281