Kodiak’s salmon season started slowly with a poor early sockeye run, but pink salmon are starting to arrive in higher numbers in certain areas of the island.
Fish and Game Area Management Biologist James Jackson said he is hopeful for a good season if the numbers continue to rise.
“We’re getting towards the middle of the (pink salmon) run. The catch and escapement both look above forecast and above what we expected,” Jackson said. “It’s a good sign for right now. Hopefully it keeps up.”
As of Monday, 2.2 million pinks had been harvested compared to over half a million sockeye. In addition, 49,125 coho, 285,102 chum and 4,606 chinook had been harvested.
Jackson noted that this year’s salmon numbers may seem low compared to last year’s record harvest of 32 million pinks, but they are comparable to 2018, the last even-numbered year.
Because pink salmon have a two-year life cycle, populations that spawn in odd years and even years are genetically distinct.
Pinks typically begin arriving in larger numbers during the second and third weeks of July and peak in mid-August. Their numbers start to decline toward the end of August.
Jackson said that Kodiak is a little ahead of schedule to meet the forecast of 12 million pink salmon and 5 million escapements, or fish allowed to escape the fishermen to keep the population going.
“Right now the catch is actually a little better than we would have thought this time of year, and escapement is better than we would have thought this time,” Jackson said.
Areas on the west side of the island, such as the Karluk River and Sturgeon Bay, are filling up with salmon pretty fast, he said.
Jackson and his crew will fly out on Wednesday to check on the run size of the Karluk River, the largest pink run on the island, which had 750,000 fish as of Saturday. He expects that number to grow exponentially.
“I'm sure by the time we fly it tomorrow it will have a million,” Jackson said on Tuesday.
As the pink salmon start arriving in large numbers, especially in the Karluk River and Sturgeon Bay, the salmon will need more rain. Jackson said the rivers are running, but water levels are low.
He also said that although Kodiak saw record snowfall levels this past winter, the increased snow pack might not be enough to raise current water levels if the summer continues to go without rain.
“It’s still dry. We need some rain, especially in the southwest corner of the island,” he said.
“I know we had some more snow this winter but doesn't seem like it was enough.”
Last summer, Kodiak reached record high temperatures, and warm water caused large numbers of salmon to die off. Experts associate the die-offs to heat stress, which might have caused the fish to be more susceptible to disease.
Deaths were also attributed to low water levels and less oxygen-rich water.
According to fisheries economist Garrett Evridge with the McDowell Group, the current number of pink salmon harvested statewide is comparable to 2018, but generally behind the longer-term even-year average.
He noted that while the harvest has been relatively strong in the Kodiak, Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands region, the pace has been slower in the Southeast, adding that “Prince William Sound is behind 2018 and its historical average.”
With 42 million sockeye harvested statewide, Evridge said the sockeye harvest is at a pace 19% behind last year's record production but on par with the 10-year average.
He said chum, coho and chinook landings are also behind in many areas of the state.
“Only four million chum salmon have been landed in 2020, the lowest for this point in the season in at least 12 years. Only Kodiak is ahead of last year’s harvest, with all other areas behind,” he said in an email.
He added that coho landings are also trending below typical levels, with a year-to-date harvest of 218,000 fish.
“In most years, at least one million coho have been harvested by week 30 of the season. Chinook landings are also behind the 2019 pace, though harvest in Southeast is ahead of last year,” Evridge said.