Alaska sockeye salmon. Alaska 2016 sockeye salmon catch: larger than expected. Two big fish stories have been spawned so far by the 2016 Alaska salmon season: 1) sockeyes save the day; and 2) colossal pinks.

A larger than expected sockeye salmon catch that has topped 50 million will salvage a summer that has seen lackluster catches of other salmon species, notably, those hard to predict pinks.

“I think if you’re a Bristol Bay fisherman, you’re probably pretty happy, and if you fished anywhere else in the state, it probably hasn’t been a great season for you,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Sockeye Salmon Fillets

Sockeye salmon

The Alaska salmon catch so far of 88 million fish is little more than half way to the preseason forecast of 161 million salmon, down 40 percent from the 2015 harvest.

Pink salmon, the “bread and butter” fish for the fleet, were projected to come up short this year, and so they have in the big three producing areas: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak.

“We really haven’t been any bright spots in terms of pink salmon across the state,” Bowers said.

The Panhandle fleet has taken less than 10 million pink salmon so far on a forecast of 34 million.

“Right now it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll hit that number,” he said “We would’ve expected to see more catch at this point. We still have half the run to come in, so it should be well over 20 million.”

The story’s the same at Prince William Sound where pink catches were at nine million on a forecast of 32 million.

“We are below average in terms of run timing so it’s unlikely we’ll hit the forecast there,” Bowers said.

Kodiak’s pink salmon fishery is being called the slowest since the 1970s, with only 1.5 million humpies taken so far.

“The catch and the escapement is currently running at about a quarter the strength it should be at this time of the season,” said James Jackson, regional manager at Kodiak.

What’s running big is the size of the fish, which usually weigh about four pounds on average.

“I’ve had a 14 pound pink on my scale,” said Tyler O’Brien, a Kodiak salmon tender operator. “And lots of 10 pounders.”

Jackson concurred that a parade of porky pinks has come through his office.

“The larger size is an indication of no competition for food out in the ocean, and that usually means you have a weak run. It’s not always true, but yeah, big pinks,” he said.

(The world record pink salmon weighed 14.49 pounds and was caught in 2001 in the Skykomish River, WA, according to

So far the total Alaska pink salmon catch is at 25 million; the forecast called for 90 million. Perhaps the puny catch will help push up disappointing prices for pinks, which were in the 20 cent range at the Alaska docks.

The opposite is true for Alaska’s sockeye salmon fishery which has yielded larger than expected catches already topping 51 million fish. The bulk of the “big money” fish, of course, came from Bristol Bay where a catch of 38 million was far larger than expected.

“Historically, the 2016 season will probably be the largest sockeye harvest at Bristol Bay since 1995,” Bowers said.
Ditto the Alaska Peninsula which produced a nearly six million sockeye salmon harvest. Upper Cook Inlet also is having a good red run, with 2.5 million taken so far.

“With a statewide sockeye harvest over 50 million fish statewide,” Bowers added, “that will rank in Alaska’s all-time top ten.”

By: Laine Welch – August 9, 2016

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