Southeast’s commercial purse seine season is off to a record-setting start, with the fleet harvesting big numbers of pink salmon on the northern end of the region.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was forecasting a strong harvest of 55 million pinks this season in Southeast and the catch is well on the way to reaching that forecast, or even surpassing it. The final week in July saw a catch of 18.8 million humpies with the fleet adding another 4.9 million in that final week. That brings the catch by the end of July to 23.7 million pinks, and already surpasses last year’s total catch.
Bill Davidson, Fish and Game’s regional salmon management coordinator, says it’s a record setting catch for this time of year and tops even the biggest years on record. “That catch is off the charts high,” Davidson says. “Going back, we had 14.5 million by this time in 1989 and 14.2 million in 2005, 11 million in 1963 and the record year we only had six million by this time, so any way you look at it we’ve had a record catch for this stage of the year.”
As a comparison, last year at this time the catch had not yet totalled two million. Some single openings this year have seen catches top two million pinks in District 12 in Chatham Strait alone. And so far, most of the catch has come in northern Southeast with big numbers of pinks netted in Icy Strait along with the Admiralty and Chichigof island shorelines of Chatham Strait.
On the flip side, seining in southern Southeast has been slow. Districts 1 through 4 around Prince of Wales and Ketchikan have had reduced fishing time and lower returns and the fleet has focused its effort on the northern end. Davidson says that could change in the next few weeks. “What remains to be seen is how the middle and late run systems develops and how the south end develops,” he says. “So far 97 percent of the seine harvest has been in the northern districts as opposed to the southern districts as far as pink salmon go. Very highly predominately a north end show this far. I think from this point on as the early runs wind down on the north end we’re gonna see a redistribution of effort.”
Fish and Game has seen landings from 255 seine boats this summer, which is up just slightly from a slow year last year. The department has switched to a two-day on, two-day off fishing regime to get a better idea of the returns in the middle and later part of the season. The average price is 41 cents a pound for seine caught pink salmon at the docks, and chum salmon are going for more than 80 cents a pound. If the high returns keep up, those high prices could help the fishery could set a record for ex-vessel value.
Normally about 30 percent of the catch is in by the end of July. The pink season typically peaks in early to mid August.