Salmon maternity ward at an Alaska hatchery





 A poor showing of chum, or keta, salmon is one of the season’s biggest fish flops for Alaska fishermen this summer.

Alaska managers predicted a record harvest of 29 million fish, but under 14 million have been taken so far.

The bulk of the 2019 catch – 18 million – was supposed to come from Southeast Alaska but fewer than four million were landed through August 26.

“It looks like our overall chum harvest is going to be quite poor this year.

Andrew Piston is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s pink and chum salmon project leader in Southeast, speaking to KFSK in Petersburg.

“It’s definitely been a surprisingly poor year for hatchery chum salmon in particular.”  

The bulk of the chums come from three non-profit hatcheries. Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (SSRAA) in Ketchikan has seen just 20 percent of its expected four million chum return. General manager David Landis –

We’ve had a very tough season. We’re struggling to get our brood stock in the quantity that we need to have for a full release next year.”

The Douglas Island Pink and Chum hatchery in Juneau also is down the same from its 4.4 million projected return.

DIPAC director Eric Prestegard told KFSK the shortfall also means a $2 million loss in cost recovery salmon, fish that the hatchery catches and sells to cover operational expenses.

“We’ll obviously dip into reserves.  At the same time, I think we may look at delaying some capital projects.”

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KFSK said DIPAC also plans to get chum eggs from the neighboring Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association in Sitka, which has had better luck with chum salmon returns this summer and last fall.

NSRAA manager Steve Reifenstuhl believes the overall poor showing of chums could be a sign of things to come.

“Are we in a one year event for survival on chum salmon or has global warming, oceans warming, ocean acidification, have those things caught up with us and we’re in for a bad five years life cycle of a salmon or is it even worse than that?”   

DIPAC’s Eric Prestegard said it’s hard to place blame but this year will leave fish growers scratching their heads.

Southern Southeast hatchery manager Landis agreed –

“The ocean is a big place and it’s pretty difficult to figure out everything that these fish experience during the course of their lives.”

Southeast Alaska chum salmon prices were reported at 55-60 cents, down from last year’s average of 87 cents a pound.