Alaska biologists forecast ‘weak’ pink salmon harvest for 2020

Pink salmon in Sitka. (Photo by USDA Forest Service Alaska Region / Flickr)

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is expecting another underwhelming year for pink salmon in Southeast.

According to a preseason forecast released Nov. 20, the estimated 2020 harvest is around 12 million fish, far below the 10-year average of 35 million.

Since 2006, more pink salmon have been returning to Southeast waters in odd-numbered years than in even-numbered years, for the most part. But the 2020 forecast still  falls below the recent even-year average, which is about 20 million fish.

Andy Piston, an ADFG biologist, says it’s hard to determine the exact cause of the decline. Warming ocean temperatures caused by climate change could be a factor, both in terms of fish mortality and in changing migration routes. Piston says the recent drought years haven’t helped, either.

“We haven’t had any huge die-offs, but we’ve had a lot of situations where fish are having to hold for extended periods of time,” he said. “We’ve had extremely low waters in a lot of spawning grounds which adds stress to the fish, they have to mill about in warmer waters for longer periods of time.”

Piston adds that this forecast is in line with a general downward trend in pink harvests in recent years, following a record-setting catch in 2013. The forecast specifically cites low escapement rates since 2012 in the Northern Southeast Inside subregion.

The final number for the 2019 pink salmon harvest throughout Southeast is expected to come in at just over 21 million fish.