Pink salmon spawn in a creek in Petersburg in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Cindi Lagoudakis)

Fishery scientists are forecasting a region-wide catch of around 16 million pink salmon for 2022.

That would be a big drop from this past year but around double the harvest from the parent year of those pinks in 2020, as well as the catch from 2018.

“So although it sounds like a low harvest forecast it’s actually a large improvement over the last two even years,” said Andy Piston, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s pink and chum salmon project leader for Southeast.

The Southeast harvests in both 2020 and 2018 were around eight million fish and among some of the lowest in decades.

Pinks are more difficult to forecast than other salmon, spawning every two years and with only one age group returning. A big piece of the outlook is based on data from trawl surveys, now a joint effort by Fish and Game and NOAA Fisheries. The annual research catches young pink salmon migrating from their freshwater rearing streams to the open ocean and gives a snapshot of how many young fish have hatched and survived rearing.

Piston said the survey catches were poor this past summer, but there’s reason for some optimism.

“The biggest thing that’s different, you know and it may have played a role in why we had such a big bounce back in pink salmon this year is, all the concerns people have had starting in late 2013 about The Blob and anomalously warm conditions have largely gone away,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll start seeing some turnaround in some of our marine survival for salmon with conditions being close to normal out in the Gulf.”

Many pointed to warmer than normal ocean temperatures as a possible culprit for poor ocean survival over the past few years. The poor catch in 2020 was compounded by low prices during the pandemic, making it worth just over six million dollars at the docks that summer. What a difference a year makes. 2021 saw a stronger than forecast run and a rebound in prices. Scientists forecast a regionwide catch of 28 million fish going into this summer. Instead the catch topped 48 and a half million pinks, worth over 48 million dollars at the dock based on an average price of 36 cents a pound. That was the 13th highest catch since statehood.

Piston said the numbers of fish escaping, or making it back to spawning streams, were higher around the region.

“We had very large escapements throughout southern Southeast Alaska this year and in northern Southeast Alaska where we had pretty poor escapements in the parent year of 2019 we saw a big improvement and we met our escapement goal in all three sub-regions of Southeast Alaska and generally in the northern Southeast inside areas we saw pretty decent escapements in most areas this year,” he said. “So that was a really big improvement over what we saw in 2019.”

This year fishing fleets caught 38.1 million pinks in the southern panhandle and 10.4 million in the northern part of the region. That’s a big improvement for returns in the north which have been weak in recent years, both odd and even.

Pinks are targeted by purse seiners and most are canned or frozen.

Fisheries managers and industry representatives meet as the purse seine task force to review last season and the upcoming one Tuesday, November 30th by videoconference.