Salmon fishing update Pink forecast right on track, Chums harvest disappointing
There has been an ebb and flow of boats in the harbor as the summer salmon season presses on.
The Southeast drift gillnet fishery opened on July 6 with the challenge of overcoming a landslide on the Tahltan River in late May that caused a barrier to salmon passage.
The Tahltan is a tributary of the Stikine and a major contributor to the Southeast gillnet fishery for sockeye, and the landslide there was thought to have caused a complete blockage to salmon passage, said Troy Thynes, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) biologist.
To address the blockage, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) staff began relocating salmon via helicopter across the barrier created by the landslide in early July. Thynes said they were successful in relocating about 4,000 sockeye, which lessened the potential negative impact of the landslide on the fishery.
“In terms of escapement, the sockeye runs as far as we know right now appear to have been pretty good,” Thynes said.
The sockeye harvest in Southeast from the gillnet fleet, however, is lower than average, according to Thynes, because there are fewer boats out fishing. Thynes said that a lot of gillnetters went to fish farther up north this year.
According to the ADFG website, 309,978 sockeye have been netted by drift gillnetters in Southeast.
While relocation efforts for sockeye resulted in little negative impact on escapement rates, Chinook didn't fare as well. Thynes said that the weir count for Chinook on the Little Tahltan, where the fish run, was “extremely low.”
As of late July, the DFO had relocated 300 Chinook across the landslide barrier.
Drift gillnetters in Southeast have reported a 26,480 Chinook harvest to ADFG so far.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment this year is the chum harvest. ADFG projected a 19.9 million chum harvest for 2014 and so far less than half that have been harvested.
A major factor in the misalignment between projected and actual harvest numbers for chums is that 4-year-old chums, which typically comprise about 65 percent of chum salmon returns, haven't shown up this year, according to a local cannery manager.
“It's never happened before in my career,” the manager said. “Something happened at some point to the four-year-olds. There has not been a solid return of four-year-olds, really, in any place in the state of Alaska right now. So nobody knows what's happened…It's hard to figure because 5-year-olds came back fantastic.”
The age of chums is linked to their size, which is how fish industry officials know which categories of fish are returning. The one advantage to a strong showing of 5-year-olds is that the fish that are coming in are large—10.5 pounds, on average, this year compared to 7.5 pounds last year, according to the manager. However, without the return of four-year-olds, the harvest is falling far short of the projection.
“We'll probably only get to 50 percent of projection,” the manager said.
The broodstock for chums has also been affected, with the Hidden Fall terminal harvest area being closed June 29 due to broodstock concerns. “NSRAA (Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association) needs 180,000 chum salmon for broodstock and to date 146,000 fish have been passed over the barrier net into the broodstock containment area,” according to an ADFG report.
The first common property purse seine for the area opened on June 15 and closed on June 29 due to the broodstock concerns. It was reopened on July 21, closing July 24, “and it is not expected to reopen this season,” the report said.
“The 2014 harvest forecast of 22 million pink salmon is well below the recent 10-year average harvest of 41 million, but is close to the average harvest over the past five even years (24 million),” according to an ADFG report.
So far southeast fishermen have netted just over 20.3 million pinks. Returns have come in a little higher than expected for seiners fishing on the south end, Thynes said, but “for the most part the pink run came in as expected, which was low.”
“It's likely it (the pink harvest) won't exceed 30 million,” he added.
Trollers in southeast have contributed to the regional harvest of cohos being the largest in the state, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce, which reports 1 million cohos harvested in Southeast this season. “Those (cohos) were caught primarily by the summer troll fleet, which landed about 292,000 cohos between July 30 and Aug. 5,” the Journal reports.
Statewide, the commercial salmon catch for all species is around 104.7 million.