Pinks return in record numbers; that’s not the case with other salmon

By most accounts, the 2013 salmon season in Alaska was a barn-burner.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is reporting that nearly 270 million fish were caught in the state this year, more than double last year’s catch of 120 million fish and eclipsing the previous record of 222 million fish caught in 2005.

Pink salmon catches in Southeast and Prince William Sound largely drove the numbers, with each area producing about 89 million pinks. State-wide, 215 million pinks were caught.

The pre-season forecast for Prince William Sound was for a harvest of 22 million pinks, and Southeast was expecting a 54 million fish pink harvest at the upper end of the forecast.

The previous record pink harvest state-wide also was in 2005, at 161 million fish.

Pinks were about the only species that came back in record numbers, however. Other salmon numbers were so-so.

The total sockeye catch statewide was only 29.5 million, what used to be considered just a pretty good season for Bristol Bay.

The Bristol Bay sockeyes came in all at once this season, and about a week early, and topped out at a dismal 15.7 million fish, below even the dispiriting pre-season forecast of 16.6 million fish.

The 2012 harvest was 20.5 million sockeye, and the record, set in 1995, stands at 44.3 million fish.

The Upper Cook Inlet sockeye run came in fairly strong, although below forecast, but with the setnetters restricted due to weak Kenai River king returns and the drift fleet restricted due to politics, the catch was much less than forecast.

The pre-season forecast was for a harvest of 4.9 million sockeye, while the actual catch came in at 2.6 million sockeye. 

Sockeye escapement in the Kenai River was nearly 1.4 million when the sonar was removed Aug. 7, but around 7,300 fish per day were still going past the counter when it was shut down.

Sockeye escapement in the Kasilof River was at 489,262 when the sonar was removed on the same date. The escapement goal for the Kasilof River is a range of 160,000 to 340,000 sockeye.

The Copper River sockeye harvest came in slightly above the forecast, at 1.58 million fish, on a forecast of 1.5 million.

The bright spot was prices for sockeye salmon, which were up from the 2012 season across the board.

According to ADF&G, the average price paid for sockeye in Bristol Bay in 2012 was $1 per pound; fishermen this year reported being paid a base price $1.50 per pound, with more for iced and bled fish.

That price difference made the 2013 catch worth more at the dock than the one in 2012, in spite of the reduced catch.

ADF&G records for Upper Cook Inlet show the average sockeye price was $1.51 in 2012; this season most fishermen were paid a base price of $1.75 per pound, but with icing and bleeding the price increased to $1.95, and some fishermen were paid as much as $2.15 per pound, depending on whether they slush-iced their catch.

Pink prices were about the same as last year, or slightly higher, around 45 cents per pound.

A shortage of pink salmon in Russia has increased global demand for Alaska pinks.


There are a number of proposals dealing with state-waters cod fishing coming up at the  Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting taking place Oct. 18-22 at the Anchorage Hilton hotel.

Most of the proposals deal with the Chignik fishery, including one to designate 50 percent of the pot fish quota to vessels under 50 feet in length.

There are only a couple of Cook Inlet proposals, one that would base the state-waters quota on a 10-year average of the parallel season catch (pounds caught in state waters when both state and federal waters are open), and one that would open state waters to longline gear July 15 if quota remains.

Relevant documents and information about how to listen to the meetings online can be found at


There have been some unusual fish showing up off the coast of Washington this summer, even more than usual. reports that the latest of those is a pending state-record opah, more commonly referred to as a moonfish or sunfish. 

“We see opah around here, but not very often, and this is a potential state record since there is none for that species,” said Wendy Beeghley, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in Montesano.

The large, colorful, deep-bodied fish are usually found in more tropical waters, and are a popular dish in Hawaiian restaurants. 

Even in its own native waters, opah is a prized fish seldom caught by sport anglers, and the larger of the two opah species is known to reach 6 feet long and weigh 600 pounds. 

Other unusual fish also showed up off the coast this summer, including two Atka mackerel caught off Westport and Ilwaco; and a dorado hooked near Ilwaco. 

While Atka are called mackerel, they’re really from the greenling family and are seldom caught off the Washington coast. 

Atka usually don’t come down past the southern part of Alaska. Beeghley, who has worked as a state biologist for 25 years, said she has never seen them in that neck of the woods. 

Another possible state-record sport catch for a dorado occurred Aug. 1 off the southern coast. 

Albert DaSilva of Kelso caught a 16-pound dorado while fishing 35 miles out of Ilwaco. 

Other uncommon fish that appeared in the area earlier this summer were two striped bass in the Columbia River. 

A state fisheries sampler saw a dead striped bass
weighing about 15 pounds on June 22 in the Columbia near Lyons Park at Woodland. Another was a 52-pound striped bass caught June 17 in the Lower Columbia Gorge by a commercial fisherman. 

Striped bass are caught in the northern California region, but catches that far north are rarely seen. In early July 2008, a 40-pound striped bass was caught in the Columbia River Gorge, and a second striper was caught near Deep River on the Washington side of the Columbia. 

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at