Most of that shortfall has come from poor pink salmon returns to streams and rivers flowing into the Gulf of Alaska where the humpy harvest is about half of the preseason prediction.
As of August 28, the preliminary harvest estimated by ADF&G was 105,862,000 salmon, including 49.6 million sockeyes, 38 million pinks, 15.4 million chums, 2.3 million cohos and 234,000 kings.
State biologists said several major sockeye salmon stocks had unexpected run timing this year. The peak run of Kvichak River sockeyes in the Bristol Bay watershed was 10 days later than average, making it the latest run since 1956. More than half of Kenai River late-run sockeyes returned in August, and Copper River sockeyes came back in three distinct pulses, the third happening in mid-July. These unusual run timing events created uncertainty for fishery managers and results in foregone harvest opportunity for commercial fishermen.
Still the fishing closures and restrictions allowed enough salmon passage to meet or exceed many established escapement goals, notably Yukon River summer and fall chum salmon, Canadian border king salmon passage, Kuskokwim River king salmon, Copper River sockeye and king salmon, all sockeyes and cohos in Upper Cook Inlet, Kenai River late-run kings and Unuk, Alsek and Keta river king salmon. Meeting those escapement goals bodes well for the probability that future salmon returns will provide harvestable surplus for all harvesters, the report reads.
ADF&G also noted that the three largest Alaska commercial salmon harvests to date occurred between 2013 and 2017. Back in the mid-1970s, harvests between 100 million and 150 million fish, like 2018, were far more common than harvests exceeding 200 million fish. The latter occurring only in seven seasons since 1975.
One of the highlights of the season was the Bristol Bay fishery, which saw the second largest sockeye harvest on record with nearly 42 million fish. It was the region fourth consecutive season with a harvest exceeding 35 million sockeyes. Also, on the plus side are Norton Sound, which is on track to exceed last year’s record coho salmon harvest, and the Kotzebue Sound with its chum harvest that should be among the top four ever recorded, biologists said.