Many Southeast Alaska salmon runs expected to be fairly good this year

Petersburg’s South Harbor at the beginning of the summer, 2024 (Photo: Hannah Flor/KFSK)

As commercial salmon fishing gets under way in Southeast Alaska, projections for salmon returns are up. Troy Thynes is the regional finfish coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He said as with any forecast, this one is only good until the fish start returning.

“Last year, with that 19 million forecast in the poor category, we ended up with a harvest of around 48 million pink salmon. So needless to say the forecast was a little off,” he said. 

The purse seine fishery brings in the largest salmon harvest in the region because it’s primarily a pink and chum salmon fishery. Pinks are the most numerous salmon species in Southeast. The pre-season forecast is for 19.2 million fish. That’s just a little above last year’s harvest estimate of 19 million, but well under half of the actual harvest of 48 million fish.

Thynes said the seine pink salmon harvest probably could have been even higher last year, but market conditions got in the way. Processors dropped pink and chum salmon prices, and then quit buying early, saying the global salmon market was flooded.

Last year about 210 boats participated in the Southeast purse seine fishery, but Thynes said he expects fewer boats this year given that the forecast for pinks is lower than last year’s actual returns. Pink salmon generally return to their home streams after one year in saltwater. That means there are two distinct runs of pinks – odd year, and even year runs. Even year runs  produce smaller returns. 

“And then again, with a lower initial starting prices, as far as price per pound goes, I would expect to see less effort than what we saw last year. You know, maybe as much as 200 boats, but possibly less,” he said.

Processors in Petersburg declined to comment on starting salmon prices this summer.

Most chum salmon in the region are hatchery-produced. Purse seining opened June 16 for some hatchery areas like Hidden Falls and Anita Bay, as well as Point Augusta Index area. Gillnetters targeting those areas also started fishing on June 16.

“I think overall that hatcheries are generally expecting a good chum salmon return, so early indications are in the few areas where there’s been some chum salmon caught already, it’s actually looking pretty decent,” he said.

Thynes said so far, harvests of hatchery chum show numbers are up around Southeast. He said this harvest could be one of the best fishermen have seen in years.

The wild sockeye harvest for the Stikine River near Wrangell is expected to be slightly above average, at 130,000 fish. Returns for the Taku River near Juneau are expected to be better, at 200,000 fish.

Managers are expecting above average sockeye runs for the Chilkat and Chilkoot Rivers near Haines.

Coho salmon are hard to forecast, because the fish spend varying amounts of time in fresh water before heading to the ocean. But Thynes said that since both pinks and coho spend just one year in saltwater, coho and pinks tend to trend together.

“They’re seeing the similar marine environment, so if the ocean is very productive for that one year they’re gonna do really well, so if it’s very poor, they’re gonna do poorly,” he said. 

The summer Chinook, or king salmon, troll fishery starts July 1. Thynes doesn’t have projections for the fishery, but he said he hopes king salmon numbers will be in line with other salmon returns.

The spring troll season is open through the end of June. Thynes said this year is a little slower than past years as the hatchery kings seem to have shown up a little later than normal, and possibly in lower numbers than expected. But king salmon landings for the winter troll fishery came in at over 40 thousand fish. Thynes said that’s higher than he’s seen in at least five years.

Thynes said he suspects overall salmon projections are up this year because more fish are surviving while they’re in saltwater. He said that’s probably due to a variety of factors.

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