With the start of the salmon season just a few weeks away, Alaska’s fishing industry is hoping the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s pre-season forecast holds true for much of the state. The department is predicting a solid season for many of Alaska’s salmon fisheries.
“We’re projecting a total forecast harvest of salmon of about 213 million fish. This is compared to about 116 million fish that were harvested in 2018,” ADF&G Fisheries Scientist Andrew Munro said. “Most of that increase is expected in pink and chum harvests.”
Odd year pink salmon runs are typically larger than even-year runs and 2019’s forecast is no exception with an expected haul of about 138 million pinks, over three times the size of the 2018 catch. Just over a third of those fish will be of hatchery origin.
Chum salmon are also expected to see an uptick of about 8.7 million fish statewide. About 75 percent of that harvest will be comprised of returning hatchery fish.
Munro adds that while the numbers are an improvement over last year, he said they are only forecasts.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty involved in our forecasting. It’s really important for the season, for fishermen, processors and buyers,” Munro explained, “but as the run starts to materialize, our managers have a lot a more information about how the season is going to form and they can adjust their management at that time.”
Last year’s harvest fell about 32 million fish shy of the pre-season forecast. Much like the uncertainty in Fish and Game’s predictions, prices for commercial fishermen have yet to come into view.
“Right now, producers and buyers are meeting in Brussels. In early May, they will be solidifying those prices, but in the next few weeks as we see Copper River open up, we should learn a little bit more about what expectations are for the 2019 season,” Garrett Evridge, a fish economist for the McDowell Group, said.
The Copper River commercial sockeye and king salmon fishery is expected to kick off around May 12.
Copper River salmon typically command high prices as the fishery is the first to open in Alaska. The fishery is expected to improve significantly after one of the worst sockeye runs on record last year with about 750,000 fish forecasted to return.
King salmon are also expected to make a comeback with about 31,000 fish, close to the fishery’s 10-year average.