Alaska’s 2021 commercial salmon season drew to a close in mid-September, with the preliminary catch standing at an estimated 219.3 million fish, and sockeye and pink harvests exceeding the forecast.
While the novel coronavirus pandemic raged on in Alaska, combined efforts of harvesters, processors and others to stem the spread of COVID-19 through vaccinations, testing, masking and social distancing resulted in much less of an overall impact of the multi-million-dollar fishery in 2021 than in the first year of the pandemic.
Commercial fisheries consultant Dan Lesh, who produces in-season commercial salmon updates for McKinley Research Group on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, noted that while harvest numbers were large that the low average fish sizes led to much less impressive harvests and revenues in 2021.
Year-to-date harvest numbers through Sept. 15 were up 20% compared to 2020 (2019 for pink salmon) and up 15% compared to pre-season forecasts, with forecasts for sockeye and pink salmon exceeded but forecasts for keta, coho and king salmon not expected to be reached.
The preliminary count of commercially caught salmon delivered to processors through mid-September was estimated at 151 million pinks 54 million sockeyes 11.5 million chums, 2.3 million cohos and 244,000 Chinooks by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Lesh noted that although the summer keta harvest had been generally poor, fall runs were proving fairly strong. This year 4.6 million keta salmon had been harvested since Aug. 1, which was among the three largest all keta harvests in the last decade, he said. Those harvests excluded any for the Yukon River, where both commercial and subsistence fishing was banned for the season by ADF&G due to run forecasts that failed to meet minimum standards for either commercial or subsistence harvests.
The most robust overall commercial salmon harvests were in Alaska’s central region, where Bristol Bay fishermen brought in over 40 million sockeyes and Prince William Sound harvesters delivered 69 million fish to processors, including 65 million humpies, 2.5 million chums and 1.3 million sockeyes. The fishery was more disappointing for Cook Inlet harvesters, who brought in a total of 3.6 million salmon, including 1.9 million humpies and 1.5 million sockeyes.
Southeast Alaska salmon nets yielded 54.4 million fish, including 45.6 million pinks, 6.3 million chums 1.2 million cohos and 1 million sockeyes.
The westward region delivered more than 51 million salmon, including 38.3 million pinks 10 million sockeyes and 2.2 million chums.
ADF&G is scheduled to release its compilation of harvest totals and fish prices paid by region in October.