Up until Monday, numbers of pink salmon returning to Prince William Sound looked like they may be a repeat of last year’s dismal run, but the fish are beginning to show up and the harvest is underway.
“On Monday, the common property fishery took about 2.5 million fish. Yesterday, it’s looking about 1.2 million,” Charles Russel said, Alaska Fish and Game’s Area Management Biologist for the Prince William Sound area. “Today, initial reports say that fisheries may be close to yesterday, but we’re a little bit behind, but still catching good numbers of fish.”
Russel says early indicators for the run, estimated at about 67 million fish, weren’t looking good, but in the ladder part of June, hatchery and wild pinks began to trickle in. On average, 8 million fish are harvested by mid-July.
“So we’re below average on our harvest, but if the run is seven days late, we should catch up here in the next week or so,” Russel explained.
The sudden pick up will have seiners breathing a sigh of relief after last year’s harvest, which was among the worst on record. The federal government officially declared the run in Prince William Sound and others around the state a disaster in January.
“Close to run failure on those, but they were able to achieve brood stock. Overall, it was the second worst harvest in the last 20 years for the commercial common property [fishery],” Russel said.
He says this year’s run is a far cry from 2016, but it will take another two weeks before its full strength is known.
Prince William Sound seiners are also wrapping up fishing for chum salmon. About 850,000 chum, most of which are hatchery fish, have been harvested in the southwest corner of the sound and near the north end of Montague Island.
The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation and the Valdez Fisheries Development Association release those fish, but some wild stocks do return to the area. Russel says the hatchery and wild chum runs will be assessed this fall.