A silver / coho salmon, held just out of the water

This year’s Norton Sound’s salmon harvest has been valued at $290,302. That’s according to a preliminary salmon harvest summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Compared to 2019’s total value of $2,073,586, that is an 86% decrease, even though 2020 was projected to have even better salmon numbers than last year. Jim Menard, Area Manager for Norton Sound and Kotzebue, says this is the first time in almost twenty years that catches have been so low.

“It was just a real drop-off compared to many years of catches, so we really fell way off. Not since the early 2000s have the catches been this poor.”

– Jim Menard

The Norton Sound was expected to have a particularly impressive run of silvers and chum this year, but that forecast also fell short. Silvers decreased by about 90% since 2019, and chum decreased by 83% across the region.

Silver salmon also weighed significantly less per pound this year. The average weight for 2020 was fewer than 6 pounds, when previous low weights were around 6½ pounds. In an earlier interview with KNOM, Menard suggested that something might be happening with food availability in the ocean.

“Maybe a feed issue, that they did not get enough food this year… something just happened that was very strange. It was definitely an odd year, that’s all we can say.”

– Jim Menard

Menard could not offer any further explanation or information regarding what caused this year’s poor salmon runs in the Norton Sound.

The bright side is pink salmon, which continue to surge in high numbers in the Norton Sound Region, even though buyer demand for pinks is low. Menard says millions of pinks were in the rivers this year, though a small number of them were actually caught.

Menard says that it is still too early to tell if these disappointing runs are a mere fluctuation or an indication of a bigger problem. But he says next year’s runs should provide some sort of answer.

“The four-year-olds, we’ll see how they come back, but every once in a while, an age class bombs on you, and definitely the four-year-olds did not do well this year … So that’s why we look to the ocean – was there something in the ocean that affected the chum and silvers?”

– Jim Menard

In Alaska, the 2020 commercial season was valued at approximately $295.2 million, a 56% decrease from 2019. Regionally, Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation has requested the Governor issue a disaster declaration for both last year’s red king crab fishery as well as this year’s chum and coho commercial fishery.

This year’s salmon harvest was the thirteenth lowest on record for the state.

Image at top: a silver/coho salmon in the Yukon Delta. Photo taken by Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, via Flickr / Creative Commons.

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