Bumper crop of pinks expected

Thanks to hatcheries coming back online, lower Cook Inlet is expecting a bumper crop of pink salmon this season.

Fishermen can expect a total run of 2.16 million pinks and a harvest of 1.72 million fish, compared to the latest five-year average harvest of 650,000 fish.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game research biologist Ted Otis said the larger forecast was due in large part to Tutka Bay hatchery numbers plus a few from the Port Graham hatchery, but added, “we are expecting to see pretty good numbers on the outer coast, too, for natural production.”

Otis said it is his understanding that the hatcheries shut down due to “dreary” market conditions.

The Tutka Bay hatchery released 51 million fry to create the anticipated 1.5 million pink salmon return. Port Graham is still ramping up and is expecting a return of 3,000 pinks to its hatchery.

The Outer District, which includes Port Dick, Port Chatham, Windy Bay and Rocky Bay, is expecting a return of 500,000 fish and a harvest of 370,000, about half of them in Port Dick. 

The parent year for that run, 2013, saw a record harvest of 2 million pinks. “That was an all-time record,” Otis said.

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There may be a herring fishery again in Kamishak Bay sometime soon, but the question remains of whether anyone will bother to fish it.

ADF&G research biologist Ted Otis said they think they have managed to scrape together the funds to do one or two vessel surveys this spring.

The biomass has stayed below the threshold necessary for a fishery for many years, but has started a somewhat sporadic upward trend in recent years.

“The last couple of years, things were starting to bounce back up,” Otis said. “We were getting some encouraging results from both aerial and vessel surveys.”

Last year it dipped a bit, but it looked like the biomass may be close to the threshold.

“We’ll know more once we get over there and take a look,” he said. “The numbers, I think, will probably eventually get there.”

The problem is that herring prices are so dismal that few, if any, boats may bother. “That potentially could play a role, too, whether or not anyone would be all that interested,” he said.

Otis said that testing showed there was a disease problem that initially led to the collapse of the fishery.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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