PETERSBURG (AP) -- Southeast Alaska fishermen could harvest as many as 30 to 50 million pink salmon this summer, according to predictions by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The season is not expected to break records, said biologist Tim Zadina, but the return should be healthy.
''The total return forecast is between 57 and 87 million,'' Zadina said. ''It's not going be as high as the '99 return, but everything is leaning toward a pretty good return off of the 2000 escapement.''
Zadina said the harvest could wind up on the top 10 list.
''Our escapement goal range is 24 to 37 million,'' he said. ''That gives us a harvest potential of between 30 and 52 million''.
More than 50 percent of the return in 2002 is expected in southern Southeast. The northern portion of the Panhandle along the inside waters should get nearly 40 percent of the return and about 10 percent is expected to show up in the northern outside waters off Baranof Island.
Mild conditions during winter 2000-2001 probably helped with the survival of this year's return, which was spawned in the fall 2000.
''The winter incubation air temps between November of 2000 to February of 2001 were above the 40-year average,'' Zadina said. ''What we look at there is whether the air temps will have a detrimental impact on the incubation period, and because they were above the 40-year average, we don't see any cause for mortality from that purpose.''
The department's forecast is similar to a prediction made by Milo Adkison, University of Alaska School of Fisheries associate professor. Because of good survival conditions, Adkison expects to see more than 90 million pinks return this year.
''For Southeast Alaska we're looking at a harvest of around 50 million pink salmon. Definitely above higher than average but not necessarily a record,'' Adkison said.
A healthy return is good news for fisheries managers concerned with the condition of Alaska's pink salmon stocks. But for processors who buy pink salmon, there's a question about what will be done if there is an overabundance of fish.
Norquest Seafoods President Terry Gardiner said processors should be able to handle a harvest level between 40 and 50 million pinks.
The Southeast pink salmon season normally gets under way after July 1.
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