Pink salmon swim in Cabin Creek near Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of Cindi Lagoudakis)

The commercial catch of pink salmon in Southeast Alaska is already looking better than harvests in 2020 and 2018.

After the first week in August the commercial harvest surpassed nine million fish combined for all gear groups. The region’s purse seine fleet caught most of that, or around 8.2 million.

“The last two even years we only harvested 8.1 million fish in both those years so we’re already passing that and we have a seine opening going on right now and once we get numbers from this opening we should be well above the last two even years,” said Andy Piston, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s pink and chum salmon project leader for Southeast. “Also that should put us within our prediction interval range for our forecast as well,” he added.

Going into the season the managers forecast a total catch of 16 million, with a range of 10 to 24 million. That still would be a weak run for the region, but would be around double the catch from the parent year two years ago. Pink salmon live for two years, one in fresh water and one in the ocean. The catches in 2020 and 2018 were among the lowest in decades.

This summer has seen some improvement for returns to the inside waters of the northern panhandle. Piston said harvest in the northern part of Southeast has a chance to be the highest it’s been since 2010. But he said that’s not across the board.

“There are still parts of northern Southeast inside areas that are still a little bit weak this year like it looks like runs up in Lynn Canal and some of the northernmost areas are still pretty weak but we saw a lot of improvement in areas like Tenakee Inlet, Freshwater Bay, some areas around there,” Piston said. “So it’s been a bit of a mixed bag but overall a step in the right direction for northern Southeast inside pink salmon.”

Depending on where you are in the region, early August is usually right around or after the peak of the run. Average size this year started off well above average but has dropped a little in the middle of the summer. Larger size can sometimes signal a weaker run in terms of numbers of fish.

Meanwhile hatchery chum salmon returns around the region have met or exceeded forecasts. That includes returns for the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association in central Southeast.

At Southeast Cove near Kake, the chum catch is close to the most recent average and is doing better than last year’s poor showing. By early August the harvest there topped 185,000 fish, just above the prediction (174,000). The seine fleet has caught around three quarters of that and the gillnet fleet one quarter.

At Hidden Falls the catch had surpassed 355,000 chums, well above last year’s total (179,242) and also above the prediction for this year (304,000). NSRAA has secured the fish it needed for brood stock and has also done cost recovery fishing in June and July. In addition, the seine fleet has had openings near Hidden Falls this summer.

Another release site at Thomas Bay near Petersburg has a total catch of 80,938 fish, all by the seine fleet. That’s close to last year’s total (82,590) and above forecast (68,000).

The total Southeast catch was at 3,830,930 chums in early August.