If you’re fishing for salmon in Southeast, this probably hasn’t been a bonanza year. But the head of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association says things are looking up for the late chum runs.
NSRAA General Manager Steve Reifenstuhl talked to the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce at its weekly luncheon on Wednesday.
As is the custom at Chamber lunches, he spoke mostly about the organization itself and the economic impact it has on the region. NSRAA operates salmon enhancement programs in five locations around the northern part of the panhandle.
Between 2001 and 2008, Reifensthul says commercial fishermen harvested NSRAA salmon with an ex-vessel value of roughly $65 million. Nearly a third of that value came from the peak year of 2008.
Reifenstuhl said the vision local fishermen had in the mid-1970s, when they formed NSRAA, was amazing.
“When fisheries are at their lowest, they decided to tax themselves 3 percent of their catch on all salmon caught, and to utilize that money to build a program that really was only on paper at the time,” Reifenstuhl said. “And then, really, they had to wait 12 or 15 years before they saw the fruits of their labor and the benefits from the money they invested in it.”
As for this season, Reifenstuhl said the summer chum run at Deep Inlet was – quote – “close to a disaster,” but said things are looking up. He says the fish are showing up at Medvejie Hatchery and elsewhere:
Five minutes before I got here I got a call from Eric Jordan, and there are lots of fish out in Sitka Sound. Lots of 3-year-olds, which generally means there will be a huge number of 4-year-olds. Three-year-olds are only a small portion of the run. Things are looking good. Hidden Falls, on the other side of the island came in at about 1.3 million chum salmon. If you do the math on that … $5.6 million in value to the seine fishery, roughly.
The big news this week is that pink salmon have hit really hard on the southern part of Southeast. Noyes Island, which people call the coast, and down near the south end of Prince of Wales Island, there were big catches on Monday and Tuesday, indicating that the run is probably going to be larger. I did some math on it yesterday. I’m certain it’s going to be larger than the forecast, which was 17 million, and others think it might hit 30.