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State salmon forecast projects ‘weak’ pink salmon runs around Kodiak Island this summer

Photo by Kate Ruck Pink salmon spawn in Gilmour Creek near where it enters Prince William Sound, Alaska, as a field technician works to collect carcasses of dead fish.
Kate Ruck
Pink salmon spawn in Gilmour Creek near where it enters Prince William Sound, Alaska, as a field technician works to collect carcasses of dead fish.

The summer commercial salmon season is less than a month away, and Kodiak Island fishermen can expect a smaller pink harvest and mixed sockeye runs overall compared to last year. That’s according to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s statewide run forecasts and harvest projections for 2024, which was released last month on April, 23.

Even years typically see less pink salmon than odd years, and this year’s forecast for wild stock pink salmon across Kodiak Island is a weak one.

“It’s a weak wild stock pink salmon forecast so we’re going to start out with a weekly fishing schedule of two and a half days. And we’ll do… looking at the catch numbers, looking at the catch effort, fly our weekly surveys and if the run comes in better than we forecast, we have the ability to adjust in season,” James Jackson, the area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak, said.

The bulk of the commercial salmon harvest around Kodiak is made up of pinks. And last summer, the area saw a late pink salmon run after processors had stopped buying by the end of August.

The total harvest for the Kodiak Management Area in 2023 was 13.8 million pinks, not including hatchery-raised fish, which Jackson considers a large odd year return.

This year’s forecast is significantly less, with an estimated total run of about 9.5 million wild pink salmon. Additionally, 3.4 million in hatchery pink salmon are forecast to be harvested from the Kitoi Bay Hatchery.

Jackson said multiple factors play into that dampened return, including below average sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska last spring.

That’s on par with the rest of the state, though, which is expecting a commercial salmon harvest forecast that’s 40% smaller across all species. That’s mainly due to reduced pinks statewide, down from 154.9 million caught last year to 69 million this year. The 2024 commercial forecast statewide is 135.7 million fish across all species.

In Kodiak, sockeye make up the second largest share of the commercial salmon fishery. This year, sockeye returns are looking similar to last year, at least based on the Karluk River forecast, on the southwest side of the island. The total 2024 sockeye salmon run to the Karluk River using sibling relationships is predicted to be approximately 1,422,000 fish. The late run is expected to be approximately 1,195,000 fish, which is 265,000 fish above the recent 10-year average.

But the timing of the productive runs has been changing over the past several years. Jackson said now the Karluk River sees more fish showing up after June – and often overlapping with the pink run in July and August.

“And then as you get into later August and September, the run has been firing on all cylinders for a while now and so you end up with a lot of continuous fishing, which also added some complexity to things because at that point you have to also worry about coho salmon,” Jackson explained.

According to Jackson, the department is not monitoring the majority of coho stocks around Kodiak Island as it no longer has the funds to do so.

The bright spot is this year’s Ayakulik River sockeye forecast, also on the southwest corner of the island. Fish and Game anticipates half a million more fish than last year’s actual run estimate. The 2024 Ayakulik forecast of 1,050,000 sockeye salmon is about 521,000 more fish than the actual 2023 run estimate of approximately 529,000 fish, and about 395,000 fish more than the most recent 10-year average of approximately 655,000 fish.

Looking outside the KMA, in the Chignik River, the sockeye salmon total run is forecasted to be 2.08 million fish, which is 752,000 fish more than the 10-year average run of 1.33 million fish and almost 114,000 fish more than the 2023 total run of 1.96 million fish. ADF&G biologist Carl Burnside said this year’s forecast indicates the stock on the Chignik is on the mend after its major crash in 2018.

Meanwhile, things are still in flux in the Alitak District with the start of the season just weeks away.

The Alitak District Setnet Association is trying to find its own tender after OBI Seafoods announced it would not buy salmon from the area’s setnet fleet this summer. Jackson said depending on how the situation shakes out, managing sockeye around Alitak could be more challenging than usual, particularly when it comes to timing openings for the fishing fleet.

“So if you’re managing Upper Station early run or Upper Station late run, or Frazer [Lake] sockeye, and the last forty to fifty years of your management have been based on half of the fish being caught, by a set of gillnetters that aren’t potentially going to be fishing, then it’s going to add some… It’s going to be a tough nut to crack,” Jackson stated. “It’s going to be different. It’s going to harder to figure out how to time the openings down there.”

Base prices have not been released yet for the upcoming summer season, but last year in the Kodiak area, pinks were getting 26 cents per pound while sockeye were 84 cents per pound at the dock. Most commercial fishing periods around Kodiak Island open on June 1. For more information on ADF&G’s harvest strategy for the Kodiak Management Area, check out their website.