Alaska’s Salmon Harvest Nears 71 Million Fish

Harvests of Alaska’s wild salmon, through July 16, jumped to nearly 71 million fish, up from 49.5 million just a week earlier. A sockeye harvest of more than 42 million fish, 36 million of them from the Bristol Bay fishery, brought this boost of 18 million reds overall.

Humpy harvests surged from 15 million a week ago to more than 21 million of which more than 13 million were caught in Alaska’s westward region. The total chum harvest reached 6.8 million, up from 5.1 million, with 4.3 million coming from Prince William Sound.

The preliminary harvest totals are produced weekly during the salmon season by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

Jeremy Botz, a management biologist with ADF&G at Cordova, said sockeyes in Prince William Sound are larger than they have been for the past few years, while chum are smaller. Some of the fish were holding offshore in deeper water during the recent heat wave, but with the cooler weather, “We are definitely getting another bump in the harvest,” he said.

Other management biologists in Bristol Bay also noted the dire impact of warmer ocean waters. ADF&G’s Aaron Tiernan at King Salmon said the Ugashik has been closed for a week because of low escapement numbers, but fishermen are still out there waiting for the area to reopen. In Egegik, where the harvest has reached more than 12 million salmon, the catch is slightly above forecast and Ugashik is currently below projections, “but I can’t say if the run is low or late. The jury is still out on that one,” Tiernan said.

Meanwhile on the Igushik River in the Nushagak district, on the west side of Bristol Bay, the water temperature is so warm it created a thermal barrier. Management biologist Tim Sands said people have reported seeing dead fish everywhere on the banks of the river, with similar incidents happening elsewhere in the state. “With the rain and cooler temperatures coming in, we are hoping that will break down the thermal barrier and the fish will be able to get up the river to spawn,” Sands said. He noted that troubles on the Igushik aside, it is one small part of the Nushagak district, where the harvest is nearly reaching 15 million fish.

“Fishermen overall are pleased with the 2019 fishery,” says Dave Harsila, president of the Bristol Bay Fishermen’s Association, who fishes in the Naknek-Kvichak where the harvest is close to 10 million fish. “The sockeyes look really good, averaging five to six pounds” he added in an interview from his boat on July 16. Harsila also noted that some processors were talking about sea water temperatures reaching 62 degrees, the warmest he’s ever seen, but otherwise hasn’t seen anything else unusual about the fishery.