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Fish & Game’s Forecast Falls Short, Silver Salmon Runs a Bust in Norton Sound

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

September 1st marks the midpoint in the silver salmon run into the Nome area and the Department of Fish & Game has seen low numbers thus far, with a few bright spots.

“The commercial harvest in 2020 hasn’t been this poor since the record low harvest of the early 2000s.”

– Jim Menard

Jim Menard, ADF&G’s area manager for the Norton Sound and Arctic-Kotzebue, says that includes chum and now silver salmon catches.

Despite fluctuating numbers in years past, Shaktoolik and Unalakleet have usually had the best runs of chum and silver salmon out of the entire Norton Sound. But this year, Menard says it was flipped.

“The commercial silver harvest in Nome and Golovin ended up being over half the total of Norton Sound’s harvest, and that’s never happened before.”

Before the season began, Menard and the department had projected an above average year for chum and silvers, similar to the record harvests from the last few years. As he has already told KNOM this season, Menard’s forecast fell short.

“Some salmon did come in as expected like the kings and the pinks, and for the first time in years there were no subsistence restrictions on king salmon fishing. And the pinks had a huge run again with millions in the [Nome] river, but unfortunately there’s little buyer interest in pink salmon in Norton Sound.”

Although the department doesn’t have a clear explanation as to why that is the case, Menard suspects the low chum and silver numbers across Western Alaska had to do with ocean conditions this year.

“We did notice [in] our sampling of the commercial catch, that the average size of silvers were much smaller this year with an average weight of under six pounds…and the previous low weight was nearly six and a half pounds, so that was very unusual. So that’s why we point to, was there something in the ocean that we didn’t see?”

ADF&G announced there will be no more commercial fishing opportunities in the Southern Norton Sound, barring some sort of unexpected surge of silvers.

But on the subsistence side in the Nome Subdistrict, fishers can subsistence net fish for silvers in the area continuously, for seven days a week. There is no longer a subsistence fishing schedule, however no drift gillnetting or beach seining is allowed in the Nome Subdistrict.

The latest counts show 1,200 silvers past the Nome River weir and almost 800 past the Snake River weir. If you have any questions about silver salmon fishing in your community, call Fish and Game at 443-5167.

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

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