After a month of weak sockeye salmon runs, pink salmon have started appearing in larger numbers this week following the opening of the season on June 9.
Pink salmon make up the majority of the island's salmon harvests, accounting for 32 million of the 36 million total salmon harvests in 2019.
As of Tuesday, Kodiak saw more than 17,000 pinks harvested, with half harvested after June 29.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had its first opener focused on the pink salmon run on July 6. After another three-day opener on July 13, the department will be able to gauge the strength of the pink salmon run.
“If there is a poor run, there may be less hours; if it’s a good run, maybe even longer. That’s how it's been managed for the last 40 years,” said Todd Anderson, an assistant biologist with Fish and Game.
Anderson said it is too early to tell if the size of pink salmon runs will match the department's forecast of 12 million fish, but he noted that the department will have a clearer picture of next Monday’s fishing opener.
He said that Ayakulik, an area on the southwest side of the island, has been the primary “bright spot” for fishing, with stronger salmon runs than in previous years.
“The run has been pretty strong,” Anderson said, adding that they have kept the area open to fishing longer than in the past.
On par with the salmon sizes around the state, Kodiak’s average sockeye and pink salmon sizes have been smaller than in previous years. Salmon harvested around Kodiak this year have averaged about 3 pounds compared to the typical 5-pound fish.
Anderson said the size of fish could be due to the age class of the fish — how many winters they spent in the ocean— or the quality of feeding out in the ocean. In some years, the size can be tied to the run size, but that may not be the case this year.
“Sometimes when there is a lot of fish in the ocean, there is less feed,” he said, but added that might not be the reason this year. Anderson also cited changing ocean conditions as a possible cause for the smaller size, but cannot be certain until the end of the season.
The number of participants is average among setnetters and typically ranges from 150 to 170 setnet sites. The number of seiners participating in this year’s salmon season is slightly below average, but could increase during the next three-day fishing opener, Anderson said.
According to Garrett Evridge, a fisheries biologist with the McDowell Group, this year’s pink salmon harvest is above the 2018 harvest, but the 2020 harvest pace is below other even-numbered years.
“Total volume of 1.7 million pinks is a relatively small amount of production, equaling about 5 million pounds or about 3% of the 2020 projected total,” Evridge wrote in an email.