The forecast was published this week in the department’s annual salmon forecast, an eagerly-awaited document that allows fishermen and fish processors to begin making plans for the fat days in the middle of the year.
The forecast indicates an average year for pink salmon, but the real prize may be on Kodiak Island’s west side.
“It looks like Karluk Lake sockeye is poised to have a pretty good rebound,” said biologist Matt Birch Foster, who authors the forecast each year.
Almost 900,000 sockeye are forecast to run the Karluk River this summer, slightly less than the 10-year average, but much more than last year’s run of 359,000. Two-thirds of the fish are forecast for the second half of the run.
The Ayakulik River, also on the west side, is forecast to have a good sockeye run, too. More than 800,000 sockeyes are expected to run that river this year, about 390,000 more than last year’s run.
“If realized, this run will be 494,000 more than the recent 10-year average and the largest since 1999,” Foster’s report states.
Most of the fish are forecast for the first half of the run.
While sockeye are highly sought after, pink salmon continue to be the backbone of the Kodiak fishery.
Foster predicts this year’s pink fishery will be about average, with 13.2 million fish available for harvest.
“It’s no huge run, but being that the price of pinks is so high, it could be a pretty good year,” he said.
Of that 13.2 million, 3.7 million is expected to be the Kitoi Bay Hatchery harvest. The remainder is wild stock.
Pink salmon run in two-year cycles, and Foster said even years tend to be easier to predict than odd years because much of the even-year pink salmon stock comes from just two rivers, the Karluk and Ayakulik.
Last year, the odd-year variability hit Kodiak hard. Forecasts called for 29.3 million pink salmon, but only 16.6 million were harvested. Overall salmon fishing was below average, with 20 million fish harvested, about 4 million below the 10-year average.
Despite those figures, the value of the salmon fishery was approximately $44 million, more than any year since 1990, and almost double the 10-year average of $22.6 million. Prices are expected to remain high this year as well.
Foster offered a note of caution: While fishing this year should be stable, the 2013 pink salmon return could be threatened by the harsh winter.
The fall’s heavy rain likely washed some eggs from streams, but the frigid temperatures this winter caused greater damage. Pink salmon eggs grow best in average temperatures above 34 degrees, and anything below 30 is considered harmful. This year’s average January temperature was 21.4 degrees.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.