It’s catch as catch can in Alaska salmon fisheries with five of six species still lagging behind normal across the region. Bristol Bay and the rest of Southwest Alaska continue to be a bright spot for the second year running, but not across all species.

As of mid-July, 72 percent of the state’s projected sockeye harvest had been caught, while just 23 percent of the projected overall salmon harvest of 190 million fish has crossed the docks, according to McKinley Research Group’s weekly report for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Bristol Bay’s Nushagak District topped 1 million fish per day for seven consecutive days and edged the 2 million mark several times, and the boom harvest has since spread out to other rivers across the bay. The only damper on yet another year with strong sockeye returns is a smaller average fish size at 4.5 pounds, compared with 5.1 last year.

2021 is expected to be a big year for pink salmon, which typically bring boom returns in alternating years. So far, the harvest is lagging behind both the five-year average and the 2019 tallies. However, the peak for pinks typically runs later in the summer, so there’s still time to see a strong harvest for the year.

Keta, or chum, salmon may have peaked for the season, as harvests have fallen off for two consecutive weeks. If so, “the total keta harvest this year will be far below the five year average, although may still exceed last year’s total,” the report says.

Only Prince William Sound is showing king returns in the plus column over last year. But given that 2020 produced returns well below average for the region, the bar was set very low.

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 15 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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