2017 is anticipated to be a fairly strong year across the board for commercial fisheries in Lower Cook Inlet, with pink salmon potentially making a comeback yet again.
Pinks are expected to steal the show once again this year, pulling up from their diminished numbers in 2016.
“Pink salmon have been really interesting in the last four or five years here because we’ve been having some really large odd-year returns. Those are odd years, not like strange years, but odd years like 2013, 2015, and 2017 and that’s because these are two-year fish," said Glenn Hollowell, the area finfish management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
He explained that saying, 'two-year fish' means they’re on a two-year cycle. The eggs that were laid in 2013 returned in 2015 as adults.
“Conversely, the 2015 eggs, which was a record year for returns everywhere in Lower Cook Inlet for pink salmon will return this year, so we could potentially see quite a large return this year," said Hollowell.
The anticipated commercial common property harvest for pinks this year is around 615,000 fish, with just over 400,000 of those coming in to the Outer District, just over 100,000 to the Southern District, and around 60,000 to the Kamishak Bay District.
“What I would suggest is I see the potential for 2017 to look a lot like 2015 and there were an awful lot of pink salmon on the Outer Coast, so I would recommend that boats that are going out there bring a lot of bread and peanut butter because they might be out there for a while," he said.
Overall, the other salmon returns should be similar to returns seen over the last few years in the area for chum and sockeye. As usual, there aren’t many Chinook or coho expected to be picked up in this area, Hollowell noted.
“There should be good numbers of sockeye coming back as there have been in previous years," he said. "Approximately one-third of the sockeye that are harvested in the Southern District, which is Kachemak Bay around the corner to Port Graham, are hatchery-produced fish that are picked up as they’re working their way back to the hatcheries in the common property fisheries. The set gillnetters pick them up in Seldovia, Barabara Point, all the way around into Tutka.”
The total anticipated harvest for sockeye is about 125,000 fish split fairly evenly among the Southern District’s purse seine gear type and set gillnetters and the Kamishak Bay District.
For chum salmon, the total projected harvest falls at about 73,000 fish with the majority in the Outer District.
Coho come in at about 2,300 fish predominantly for set gillnetters in the Southern District. Chinook fall at about 500 fish with 400 for set gillnetters and 100 for purse seiners both in the Southern District.
“I will say that Chinook salmon have been showing up in nice recovering levels for the past couple of years in the fisheries," said Hollowell. "Generally, we only pick up fewer than a thousand Chinook salmon in any given year in the fisheries here and we’ve started to get closer to that number again, which is nice. For a while there, we were only picking up a few hundred fish, but it’s looking like Chinook salmon are getting closer to their historic levels of abundance in this area after a number of years of having been down.”
Overall, Hollowell said managers, biologists, and fishermen alike are just hoping for a good year in Lower Cook Inlet.
Pink salmon may swamp the other fish again and push total numbers over the top, but even the less predominant types seem to be shaping up into a decent harvest.