Alaska’s pink salmon harvest for 2016 is over and was well below the preseason forecast. Across the state, the dock talk on pinks is consistent: It did not work. Something with salmon failed this summer, and the consequences are affecting most permit holders in the state.
According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports, environmental factors, which play a significant role in determining pink salmon run size, have been variable in recent years. Pacific Decadal Oscillation values showed above average sea surface temperatures throughout the Gulf of Alaska. Climate variation affects many dimensions of the marine environment, including predation, water temperature, homing and out-migration timing, food and general nutrient availability. How these factors will contribute to next year’s harvest is unclear.
The returns were low enough to prompt Alaska Rep. Louise Struts (R-Kodiak Island), chairwoman of the House Fisheries Committee, to submit a proposal to Gov. Bill Walker to seek federal disaster assistance for fishermen. But the issue reaches far beyond fishermen and will affect coastal communities and the businesses that support and contribute to general maintenance and gear upgrades to that particular fishing industry in many ways. Stutes also sponsored a state measure that will allow affected fishermen to apply for a deferment of related state loan payments.
“In the sound, wild stock abundance appeared to be greater than hatchery stock,” says Tommy Sheridan, a former fish and game biologist now representing Silver Bay Seafoods. “The time was limited to harvest these, but the area available was OK. There was more opportunity in surplus wild stock than the hatchery fish, and that’s one bright spot we could point to for the summer.” But in general there is not much positive to point to.