Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wild Salmon Season

The "official" start of wild salmon season traditionally begins with the opening of the Copper River Run, which begins in May.  However, wild king salmon are beginning to show their beautiful black mouths at high-end markets that can afford them.  Most are coming in from Sitka and Yakutat, both located in the Southeast portion of Alaska.  Though prices are extremely high for big, fresh Chinook salmon right now, you have to understand that the season hasn't really kicked off yet.  So what can we expect from the fishery this year?  Here's a quick projection:

Looking at the overall harvest numbers is a scary thing.  The Pacific wild salmon harvest is forecasted to be down 47% from last year.  Before you start shedding tears and freezing pounds of wild salmon at a time, let's investigate that dooms-day figure.  Most of that drop in harvest is comprised of the pink salmon fishery.  Pinks are projected to decline in catch by 67%, which is down significantly from last year's record number of 226 million pounds, but pinks will most likely continue to make up the bulk of the harvest figures.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts the Coho salmon harvest to be around 4.4 million pounds, which is a relatively promising number.  Washington State is predicting Coho runs (number of salmon returning to spawn) in the Puget Sound area and Columbia River to increase this year, and, generally speaking, Coho runs are predicted to be stronger than previous years.

Sockeye salmon runs in Alaska are looking to increase by 14% from 2013 numbers.  The harvest is forecasted at 34 million pounds.  Even better news is coming from Canada: This year's Fraser River sockeye runs are predicted to be the best ever on record, hopefully offsetting the decline of pink salmon harvested and giving relief to the market.  The B.C. predictions for sockeye look very promising and this year we could really see some relief in prices for the ultra healthy, super tasty sockeye species.

Wild king salmon, Chinooks, are expected to rebound in the Washington Sate harvest, specifically in the Columbia River and Puget Sound.  These fish will be comprised mostly of hatchery fish returns.  This is good news, but, unfortunately, the Alaskan fishery is not looking as optimistic.  The Yukon River will continue to be closed due to lack of returning salmon and there is a troubling report from the Kenai River that a minimum escapement number of fish won't be met even if no fishing occurs.  A minimum escapement is a number of returning salmon set by scientists and researchers needed to pass freely and spawn in order for the following year's return stocks to be successful.  Wild Alaskan king salmon continue to struggle to regain a foothold.

In some regards, in the case of returning sockeye, this year looks very promising in terms of getting affordable, nutritious, wild salmon to market throughout the summer.  On the flip side, don't expect wild Chinook salmon prices to be any less than they were last year, unless you live in the Washington State area.

It is important to note that less than 60 years ago salmon runs were so plentiful that you couldn't cross some rivers without stepping on a salmon.  Shifting baselines have caused us to lower our expectations of what is "acceptable" when it comes to returning salmon figures.  Our point of reference for what a healthy stock looks like has drastically changed, reflecting the depletion of salmon stocks becoming the norm.  I hope that we continue to encourage and support strong salmon runs by limiting harvests, resurrecting destroyed habitat, and controlling by-catch.  Restoring our wild salmon stocks should always be a point of concern and every new season should remind us of how wonderful this resource is and how      important it is to protect it.                

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