Alaskan processors dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks through salmon season

The harbor in Cordova, Alaska.

The Alaska summer salmon season is riding another large catch of Bristol Bay sockeye and a recent spike in pink salmon harvests to decent overall harvest numbers, but surging numbers of COVID-19 cases have created some concern for the state’s seafood processors.

According to figures provided by McKinley Research, the summer’s total salmon harvest is already up 5 percent over last year, driven in part by a second straight week of good pink harvests after a slow start.

McKinley Research’s weekly harvest update said the total pink salmon harvest was trailing the 2019 year-to-date catch by 70 percent just two weeks ago, but had stormed back to just 8 percent behind the most recent odd-year catch. Recent harvests of pinks in Prince William Sound have been especially strong. Twenty-two million of the state’s 30 million pink salmon caught this season have been caught in Prince William Sound, where the harvest is up 105 percent from 2019. Fish in Prince William Sound are a bit smaller, down 4 percent in size according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG).

Sockeye harvests have already exceeded their pre-season projection by 5 percent.

“In Bristol Bay, the total sockeye salmon run has now surpassed 65.3 million fish, which breaks a record in the more than 100-year-old fishery (the previous record was 62.3 million in 2018). Although the total run (counting harvest plus escapement) was record-breaking, this year's harvest is expected to be well under the 43 million sockeye caught in the region in 2019 and the 44.4 million record set in 1995,” the McKinley Research report said.

The Alaska Peninsula has also recorded a strong sockeye season, with 5.8 million sockeye caught, up a 160 percent from last year. And while the sockeye catch was up 193 percent over last year in Kodiak, pink numbers there have dropped by 84 percent. Just over 50 percent of the projected chinooks had been harvested statewide, and while coho salmon tend to show up later, fishermen had landed only 7 percent of the pre-season forecast.

Meanwhile, the state is experiencing a surge of coronavirus cases that is crowding hospitals. The Anchorage Daily News reported this week the state’s caseload shot up by 562 over the weekend, with outbreaks in coastal fishing hubs including Sitka, Cordova, and Kodiak. According to Alaska Public Media, COVID-19 cases in Cordova, home to the Copper River fishing fleet, resulted in the shutdown of Camtu’s Alaska Wild Seafoods processing plant, and prompted the resumption of a mask requirement for city workers.


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