Norton Sound fishery is breaking records, but king salmon are lagging
The Norton Sound commercial fishery could log near-record catch and escapement numbers for four out of the five returning salmon species this season, but like some other regions in the state the king run is failing to meet escapement goals.
Already this season, the sound has seen its biggest run of chums since the record was set back in 1983. The sockeye run is ranked in the top three of all time, the pinks are returning in near-record breaking numbers for an odd year and the silvers are forecasted to show a strong return later this month.
"Salmon season has been rolling along this year. Everything looks good except for the king salmon," said Chignik Area Management Biologist Jim Menard.
As the king run lagged early in the season, Menard was forced to restrict the commercial fishing effort even though the other runs were beginning to show.
"The king salmon in the Shaktoolik and Unalakleet sub-districts in the southern Norton Sound are a stock of concern, and there is a salmon management plan by the board of fisheries in how we are going to prosecute our commercial fisheries," said Menard. "We cannot commercial fish until July first if we are going to take any restrictions in the king salmon subsistence fishery—which we did this year."
Despite the late start, the gillnet fleet in Norton Sound could record its largest ex-vessel value in history. The chums, pinks and sockeye are exceeding expectations, and the silvers are forecasted to have one of the top returns ever recorded.
The only buyer in the region is CDQ subsidiary, Norton Sound Seafood Products, and they are paying 80 cents a pound for chums and $1.40 for silvers.
All river systems are seeing strong escapement numbers.
"We're busting records for chum salmon escapements. We're busting records for an odd number of year pink salmon year runs, and silvers are starting out good. Sockeyes: we're probably going to be the second best escapement we've ever seen," said Menard.
The total catch for The Norton Sound is nearing 200,000 fish, but only 7,500 kings have escaped to area rivers.