Alaska’s wild salmon harvest reached more than 203 million fish as the season drew to a close in October, largely exceeding last year’s 115.7 million fish, with the sockeye proving to be a star performer.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists had predicted a statewide 2019 harvest of 213.2 million salmon, including 41.7 million reds. However, by Oct. 3, ADF&G’s preliminary harvest data showed some 55.3 million sockeyes delivered to processors statewide.
Chinook catches met their modest forecast of 274,000 fish while pink salmon totaled some 125.7 million fish, compared to a forecast of 137.8 million. Keta salmon harvests stood at 18.3 million, nearly 12 million fewer fish than anticipated, and coho production also lagged, down roughly 25 percent from the expected harvest of 4.6 million fish, noted Garrett Evridge, of the McDowell Group, who produces weekly Alaska salmon harvest updates during the fishery for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
The 2019 sockeye harvest is the fourth largest on record, measured in numbers of fish, with Bristol Bay accounting for 78 percent of the total. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands accounted for 7 percent while Prince William Sound came up with 5 percent, and Southeast Alaska with 16 percent of the total, while other areas of Alaska brought in the last 4 percent, Evridge said.
The keta harvest of some 18 million fish is the 16th largest on record and nearly equal to the five-year average. Southeast Alaska harvests accounted for 42 percent, followed by Prince William Sound with 31 percent, the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands with 8 percent and the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim with 7 percent. All other areas, led by Bristol Bay, accounted for the remainder, Evridge said.
The Chinook harvest of some 274,000 fish proved slightly larger than the 2018 catch, but still ranked among the lowest harvests since 1975. The biggest region for kings, at 63 percent, was Southeast Alaska. Bristol Bay was the second biggest producer for kings, at 13 percent. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands had 11 percent and Prince William Sound 7 percent.
Climate change brought rising temperatures again to Alaska and drought conditions resulted in unknown thousands of salmon dying before they reached spawning grounds due to lack of sufficient water in streambeds. In some areas, including Prince William Sound, salmon milled around for days waiting for waters to rise. Several state biologists said they likely won’t know the impact of those temperatures and drought conditions until 2021.
“It was a dry summer and the way climate conditions are continuing this is more than likely to become more commonplace,” said Charlie Russell, a seine management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova.
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