Pink salmon are showing up in odd places around the Homer area. Fish can be seen swimming through Beluga Slough in the middle of town, a saltwater marsh with no historical salmon returns.
Dead pinks litter the slough’s muddy banks at low tide and several fish are still swimming around. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Glenn Hollowell said there have also been reports of fish in other systems around Homer and along the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula.
“We’re seeing very large numbers of fish in a variety of places around Kachemak Bay. Some of the creeks at the back of Little Tutka Bay have really unusual numbers of pink salmon associated with them, as does Diamond Creek,” Hollowell said. “Seldovia Slough also has a lot of pink salmon in it right now.”
Pinks are a two-year fish and Hollowell thinks the large numbers of pinks showing up in odd places is merely a reflection of 2015’s record-breaking return. Several reports came in that year of fish straying into small water systems that typically can’t support salmon.
“A lot of the smaller systems had just the right number, and if you combine that with the warm winter which was pretty wet, those little systems were perfect incubators for pink salmon, and that’s what we’re seeing right now,” Hollowell explained.
He says the mild winter likely allowed eggs in Beluga Slough to hatch the following spring, creating a small run in the marsh.
People can be seen gathering near the slough to take a look for themselves. Emily Springer, who studies the fishing industry and is married to a commercial fisherman, grew up around Homer. She said she’s never seen anything like it.
Springer took her kids and a friend’s family to Diamond Creek a few miles outside of town just to watch the fish.
“I just thought it was really interesting, and I thought she’s a fisherman and she might think it was interesting too to bring her own kids down there and go check it out and just see how far up the creek these salmon had gotten,” Springer said. “They got all the way up to where the waterfall is.”
For those asking if we will see another return in 2019 to Beluga Slough and other systems, Hollowell said that depends on the weather this winter.
“We might continue to see pink salmon in Beluga Slough if we see wet, warm winters,” he said. “However, if we get some bitterly cold winters, like is more than norm for this area, some of those fry and eggs might have a really tough time, and we might see this return drop back to historical levels where it’s essentially undetectable.”
There were no official counts of how many fish made it up the slough, but Hollowell estimates that about 2,000 pinks may have spawned there. Fish and Game is taking samples of ear bones to find out if the pinks may be hatchery fish, but Hollowell doesn't expect that to be the case. He says the 2015 return around Kachemak Bay was "overwhelmingly" comprised of wild fish.