Across Kodiak Island, pink salmon were found in fewer numbers and in different places than preseason fishing estimates foretold, leading to ripple effects across the island’s economy.
One of the biggest variations from the forecast affected pink salmon released by the island’s hatcheries in 2009. While between 5.5 million and 10.5 million hatchery pinks were expected to return to the island this year, the end of 2009’s two-year pink salmon cycle, only about 2.2 million were caught.
“We always think our forecasts are … safe because they’re based on long-term averages,” Brennan said. “Unfortunately, you get those years, say every 10 to 15 years or so, that don’t follow the average.”
Across Kodiak, fishermen caught more than 16.5 million pink salmon. While that figure is more than the average since 1978 of about 12 million, it’s less than the preseason estimate of 29.3 million.
With fish processors and fishermen spending big to buy supplies for an expected big run, the shortfall has affected people island-wide. KRAA, at the center of things, also has been affected.
The organization is funded by a 2 percent tax on the gross income of commercial salmon fishermen, state grants, state contracts and what’s known as cost recovery fisheries.
“There is an area immediately adjacent (to the hatchery) called a special harvest area,” Brennan explained. “We have the ability to work with the (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) to regulate the amount of fish caught in that area.
“A processor can have rights to catch fish in that area, within limits set by the department and us. They would pay us a royalty for those fish,” he said.
This year, KRAA was relying on a cost-recovery fishery of 7 million pounds.
“Unfortunately … we weren’t able to meet that goal,” Brennan said.
Amid the shortfall, KRAA planned an aggressive capital improvement plan at the Kitoi Bay Hatchery.
“Besides the operational costs up there, we have a fairly large bill coming due on capital improvements,” Brennan said.
“We’re very lucky that we do have some money in reserve,” he said. “(The shortfall) will not affect operations at this point, but it will cause us to delay some capital improvements. … It’s not going to be catastrophic for us.”
Heading into winter and the aquaculture association’s offseason, Brennan said the organization’s board of directors will face some tough decisions on changing the cost recovery fishery to ensure it doesn’t take up more than 50 percent of the returning fish from the more than 100 million fry the hatchery releases each year.
Next year’s forecast will be more conservative, Brennan promised, because it will incorporate this year’s low return in its average.
As to the reasons for that low return, Brennan has few answers.
“Honestly, it may be difficult ever to find a smoking gun, to find the actual reason why the hatchery returns didn’t do as well,” he said. “Once the fish get offshore, get into the open ocean, it’s like a big black box.”
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiak