This year’s pink salmon return in Lower Cook Inlet has been a good one. About 1 million fish have been harvested in the southern and outer districts around Kachemak Bay. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Gelnn Hollowell said the return is coming in strong, but it hasn’t overwhelmed the fleet.
“This year’s harvest has actually been a really good number in terms of tender rotation,” Hollowell explained. “That is getting the fish from the fishing grounds to the cannery where they can be processed at a time where they’re still very fresh and the meat is very firm.
Hollowell said that Fish and Game was unsure of how the season was going to play out initially, after last year’s run was one of the worst on record and fish overloaded streams in 2015.
The commercial season started with a conservative three-day schedule, but just a couple of weeks into the run, it became clear 2017 was going to be a good year for seiners and gillnetters.
“So we increased to seven days per week, 16 hours per day, in the outer district and in the southern district to keep on top of these returns before they got too big,” Hollowell said.
Although, there are not any significant runs of chum and sockeye in the area, fishermen are seeing good numbers compared to historical averages. About 130,000 sockeye and 120,000 chum salmon have been landed around Lower Cook Inlet.
Over in Prince William Sound, the run is beginning to trickle off and is currently about 10 million shy of the five-year average. Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Charles Russel said although the pink returns are coming in under forecast, he adds the numbers aren’t half bad.
“Compared to last year, it’s been a very good season. They’ve harvested about 37 million pink salmon and about 2.2 million chum salmon. It’s been a good season for them, but of course they always want to catch a few more fish,” he said.
Homer-based seiner Buck Laukitis agrees, and he notes the season should have been profitable for most of the fleet. Pinks have been fetching a decent price at the docks at about 35 cents per pound. Laukitis said he’s ok with that price, but he hopes it will jump as the season comes to a close.
“Well, it’s a good start. We’ll see what it ends up at. I think people are hoping it will end up back in the 40s or high 30s,” Laukitis said.
Laukitis’ 58-foot seiner, the Stanley K., will remain in the sound for one more day before heading back home.