As salmon forecasts for 2017 continue to come in statewide, Bristol Bay is looking right on track for the most recent 10-year average, and 27 percent above the long-term mean which saw some poor returns in years as recent as 2011.
However, what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game calls the “highly variable” projected commercial harvest of 29 million sockeye is 2 percent lower than the most recent 10-year harvest, which has ranged from 15.43 million to 37.53 million, but 34 percent greater than the long-term harvest average of 20.52 million fish, which includes the years from 1963 until present, the ADF&G report states.
The harvest of the past three seasons has come in significantly above forecast. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Bristol Bay sockeye run has returned in massive numbers past those predicted by ADF&G. For example, in 2016, commercial fishermen harvested 26 percent more than what the department predicted.
In 2014, the harvest was 14 percent higher than forecast, and in 2015, 11 million more sockeye ended up in commercial nets than ADF&G predicted.
In other areas of the state, especially in 2016, the opposite happened, with Upper Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska falling far below forecasts.
In 2017, a total of 41.47 million sockeye are expected to return to Bristol Bay, and ADF&G expects all systems to reach their escapement goals.
In spite of varied results, ADF&G defended their forecasts in the report.
“These methods have performed well when applied to Bristol Bay as a whole. Since 2001, our forecasts have, on average, under-forecast the run by 10 percent and have ranged from 44 percent below actual run in 2014 to 19 percent above actual run in 2011. Forecasted harvests have had a mean absolute percent error of 15 percent since 2011,” the report reads.
The 2016 season was exceptional in run strength, ranking second out of the last 20 years with a total run of 51.4 million sockeye, and 46 percent above the same 20-year average.
It also compared to the 2015 season as being the latest on record, with the peak happening 7 days past historical records.
In addition, the 2016 harvest of all salmon species was 39.2 million fish, ranking first over the last 20 years and worth a preliminary ex-vessel value of $156.2 million, 40 percent above the 20-year average of $111 million.
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Cristy Fry can be reached at email@example.com.