Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon harvest is predicted to drop by two-thirds (66 percent) this year compared to last year, according to a report from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game released Tuesday (April 19). But the forecast shows the harvest could be double the last even-year pink salmon return to the region. Pink salmon runs in Southeast tend to peak in odd years, and fall in even years.
Lowell Fair is the Southeast regional supervisor for the state Fish and Game department’s commercial fisheries division. He says the commercial pink salmon harvest forecast this coming year for Southeast Alaska is 16 million fish.
Fair explains: “We have a prediction interval around that of about 10 to 24 million, just because there’s a lot of uncertainty in these forecasts. So we put a realistic range around what we expect. But 16 million was the point prediction of what we would expect.”
The estimate comes mostly from analysis of juvenile pink salmon abundance indicators collected by researchers in Southeast in previous years.
“We would categorize that as a weak forecast,” Fair says. “The 10-year average is around 30 million [pink salmon], so we’re not expecting a great run next year. There is some hope, if you want to be optimistic, though, the cooler temperatures that we’ve had may bring back better than expected returns, kind of like what we saw last year. We don’t know that. But that’s possible.”
Last year, Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon run came in almost 20 million fish higher than the forecast.
“We had a harvest that was about 48 million [fish] when our preseason forecast was only 28 million. So that was a pleasant surprise for I think, pretty much everybody,” Fair says, and adds: “We met all of our escapement goals for pink salmon.”
If 16 million pinks come back to Southeast this year, that would be about half of the recent 10-year average harvest – but just about double the most recent even-year harvest from 2020 (8 million fish).
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game only publishes harvest forecasts for pinks in Southeast Alaska, because they say they don’t have enough data from other salmon species to accurately predict harvests.
The ADF&G report also confirmed that the 2021 commercial salmon harvest for all species in Southeast was almost four times higher than the 2020 harvest – the 16th highest harvest on record, mostly driven by the larger-than-predicted pink salmon run.
“If you compare last year’s total harvest to the year prior (2020), which was really one of the poorest harvests we had ever had – we had [about a] 59 million harvest last year, and that was four times higher than what we had in 2020,” Fair says. “Not only did we have more fish, but we had better prices pretty much across the board. So I’m sure that the commercial fishermen are very happy about 2021, generally, overall.”
The state hasn’t released last year’s final statewide ex-vessel prices for salmon, but the preliminary ex-vessel value of the 2021 Southeast salmon fishery, released last fall, was over $132 million — more than double 2020’s value. That broke a three-year streak of dropping prices for Southeast salmon.
Previous ADF&G reports showed that the statewide salmon harvest in 2021 — both by numbers of fish and by weight — was the third-highest on record, and the 2021 statewide salmon harvest was almost double the harvest from 2020.
The statewide ex-vessel value of almost $644 million from 2021 is the third-highest reported since the mid-1970s.
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