Credit: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Two themes dominate Alaska’s 2021 salmon season: way more fish than expected and most of them are smaller than usual.
The statewide catch this week topped 212 million salmon, more than 22 million over the forecast.
Pinks have pushed the numbers with catches so far nearing 146 million; projections called for 124 million. The sockeye harvest also blew past expectations by nearly 8 million, totaling nearly 54 million reds.
Only king salmon, chums and cohos are lagging behind the forecasts.
Across Alaska the salmon are smaller than usual. At Bristol Bay, for example, the average sockeye weight was just 4.65 pounds, the lowest in 42 years.
Researchers say it’s because the fish are spending two years in the ocean instead of three before returning to the Bay to spawn.
A salmon’s age is measured by how many years it spends in the ocean. A 2-ocean fish, for example, has spent two years in the ocean before returning to its spawning grounds.
Dan Schindler from the University of Washington’s Alaska Salmon Program spoke to KDLG in Dillingham.
“The size of fish has declined for their age. So the size of 2-ocean fish has been declining slowly over time, and the size of 3-ocean fish has been slowly declining over time.”
Pacific salmon abundance in the North Pacific last year was the lowest recorded since 1982, according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.
Schindler said competition for food in large runs also can be a size factor.
“This declining size at a given age is really a function of more hungry mouths from lots of Bristol Bay fish, but also more hungry mouths from all those hatchery fish that we’re dumping out into the ocean.”
Similarly, average pink salmon sizes in Southeast Alaska are among the lowest on record, at just 2.9 pounds.
Weights for Chinook and cohos also are down; chums were down by 1.6 pounds from last year and 1.9 pounds below the five year average weight, according to the AK Dept. of Fish and Game.