Statewide commercial catch could reach 179 million fish

Bigger salmon harvest predicted

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2007

 

  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a bigger salmon harvest this year than in 2006. Clarion file photo

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a bigger salmon harvest this year than in 2006.

Clarion file photo

The statewide salmon harvest this coming season will be significantly larger than that of 2006.

That’s the word from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, according to its annual salmon harvest forecast issued in early February.

Pink and chum salmon catches are predicted to exceed those of last year, while the sockeye catch is expected to reach similar numbers, the department said.

Commercial fishers could haul in 179 million fish all told, including 789,00 chinook, 40.9 million sockeye, 4.8 million coho, 108 million pinks, and 24.8 million chum salmon.

Projections are not always on the mark, however.

Last year at this time, biologists were expecting an all-species commercial catch of around 167 million fish. Only about 141 million were netted, the department said.

Some 73 million pinks were caught in 2006, far below the preseason projection of 108 million. On the other hand, the chum catch, slotted at just 17.6 million, hit 21.1 million by season’s end.

According to Fish and Game, if the 79 million (all-species) catch target and the 108 million pink harvest target are met in 2007, they would place among the top 10 harvests since 1960. Meanwhile, if the 24.8 million-chum prediction proves accurate, it would mean a record harvest this year, the department said.

The projected 2007 chinook salmon harvest of 789,000 would be the second largest harvest of the past decade, and a 2007 sockeye harvest of 40.9 million would be on a par with harvests of the last three seasons, Fish and Game reported.

The forecasts are based on quantitative projections of next year’s salmon run using information on previous spawning levels, smolt out-migrations, returns of sibling-age classes and recent survival rates observed for hatchery releases.

Forecasts specific to Cook Inlet estimate a sockeye run in the Upper Cook Inlet (UCI) area of 4.9 million fish, with an escapement goal of 1.6 million, leaving a harvest of about 3.3 million fish. The UCI system includes the Kenai, Kasilof, Susitna and Crescent rivers, as well as Fish Creek.

Steve Tvenstrup, president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association,said those numbers would be good, if they can actually catch 3.3 million fish.

However, that could depend on how the fishery is managed. If management can stick to escapement goal ranges and let commercial fishers fish, “it should be a decent year,” Tvenstrup said.

For the past year or so, salmon prices have inched up. If that happens again and the price rises 10 percent to 20 percent, as he expects, Cook Inlet drifters will meet their payments and make a living, he said.

In 2006, the harvest of sockeye by all user groups in the UCI was 2.7 million fish, which topped the prediction by some 600,000. Fish and Game said the higher-than-expected harvest last year was largely due to stronger-than-expected returns of age 2.3 million sockeye to the Kenai River and age 10.2 million sockeye to the Kasilof.

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.



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