Low king salmon numbers forecast in western Alaska

NOME (AP) — Western Alaska fishermen hoping for improved king salmon runs in 2014 will be disappointed again, according to biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The department is forecasting another dismal year for kings and has scheduled meetings in Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, and Koyuk to discuss a strategy for letting them reach breeding waters, KNOM-radio reported.

“This year, we’re projecting a very poor king salmon run throughout western Alaska,” said department biologist Scott Kent. “Norton Bay, Shaktoolik, and Unalakleet sub-districts are the three areas that have major chinook salmon producing watersheds. In those areas, there’s going to be some severe restrictions taken in order to try to conserve nearly every chinook salmon that’s returning to these waters.”

The department wants advice from local salmon users on how to implement a ban on catching kings without hampering harvests of other salmon.

King salmon returns have plummeted in recent years in Norton Sound and the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. Warming sea water, commercial bycatch, overfishing and other potential factors are cited as possible causes.

There is good news for other salmon in western Alaska.

“As far as chum salmon is going, we think this year’s chum salmon run to Norton Sound is going to be very good, average to above average,” Kent said.

The forecast calls for plentiful pinks and state and private biologists anticipate above-average silver salmon returns.

Sockeye salmon returns are more uncertain.

“We’ll really have to wait and see what comes back,” said Kevin Keith, a fisheries biologist with Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. “Could be a good year, but it might not be a very good year.”

The corporation for years has attempted to enhance sockeye runs. Biologists fertilized Salmon Lake to increase the food supply and revive the Pilgrim River run.