2019 Silver Salmon Season in the Top 5 for Norton Sound

A close-up view of a silver salmon, caught in a net.

Silver salmon have shown up in the Norton Sound region this summer at above-average numbers. Though the fishing season isn’t over yet, the commercial catch of silvers is in the top five harvests for the region.

“We’re going to be up in the 130,000 silvers for the harvest. The top four harvests all-time have been in the last five years, so things are looking pretty good there.”

– Jim Menard

Jim Menard is the area fisheries manager for Norton Sound and the Arctic, including Kotzebue. Despite the impressive amount of salmon, he says numbers were not quite as good as the department originally forecast. According to Menard, the catches are starting to drop off now, and the Norton Sound commercial silver salmon fishery is expected to end later this week, around September 7.

There is a lower statistic ADF&G is noticing when it comes to silvers. Menard says the average amount of meat on each fish is less than they’ve seen in years past.

“We all noticed when we were fishing too, hook and line, that we are tending to get some smaller silvers along with some nice catches, but the average weight is 6.4 pounds (to) 6.5 pounds right now. And that’s one of the lowest we’ve ever seen. During last year’s record harvest of 260,000 silvers, the average weight was 7.1 pounds.”

And Menard says, as the salmon are coming into the area by the thousands, it’s been hard to keep track of them.

Fish & Game has been having trouble setting up their counting projects across the region, but especially in Southern Norton Sound. According to Menard, the department was only able to count at Fish River for a total of six days this season since high water levels kept knocking out their equipment.

When it’s difficult to count salmon numbers, Fish & Game resorts to using aerial surveys along with model projections if water levels stay low enough. Menard says this also involves matching up numbers with historic data to determine overall season count, but if they can’t do surveys, then they rely on commercial and subsistence catches.

“Up in Nome, we’ve been doing real good fishing down at the rivers, hook and line fishing, compliments from subsistence guys that they are catching their fish, so we are going off of that. We’re back in the water at Nome and Snake (Rivers). We missed about half the run. Usually, September 1st is the midpoint of the silver run past the weirs at both Nome and Snake (Rivers).”

According to Menard, what they have been able to count in terms of salmon numbers so far looks good compared to past years.

And more good things could be yet to come in the Nome fishing area, as Menard says the silvers typically continue running into mid-September.

Image at top: Silver (coho) salmon. Photo: Sam Beebe via Flickr Creative Commons.