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Pink salmon are having a great 2023 return in Puget Sound

caption: Pink salmon near Valdez, Alaska.
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Pink salmon near Valdez, Alaska.

Did you know pink salmon are quite considerate? They schedule their returns during odd-numbered years. That makes things easier for folks watching salmon communities around Puget Sound, and in 2023, they are observing one of the largest pink salmon runs in the past decade.

Matt Bogaard with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is one such salmon expert who keeps track of these numbers.

"We're forecasting to see about four million Pink Salmon returning to Puget Sound this year. That's right around the 10-year average," Bogaard said. "We did see a run size of a little over 8.5 million in 2013. And we've had several large run sizes since, but in the last two pink salmon cycles, we've seen declining run sizes. So it's great to see a larger number coming back this year."

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The 2023 pink salmon run is expected to peak now through early September.

In 2021, about 3.7 million pink salmon returned to Puget Sound.

"Pink salmon tend to swim in high-density aggregations, sort of at the shoreline, so they are a bit easier for folks to observe. They're typically chasing their preferred food source and honing in on their natal stream habitats," Bogaard said.

In recent years, the Pacific Ocean experienced consecutive La Niña cycles, which created favorable conditions for the young salmon. That could be one reason that pink salmon numbers are so high for marine observers, recreational catches, and commercial observations this year.

"We've also seen an increase in abundance in some of our other stocks," Bogaard noted. "Baker [River] sockeye, for example, has had one of the highest run sizes on record. So we're hoping that the pink, and other stocks, follow suit."

"I think we have some really positive inclinations, so far, that we should see a higher abundance of pink salmon communities here, which is great for us to meet our conservation objectives, but it's also going to be excellent to hopefully provide an increase in both recreational opportunity, as well as commercial opportunity, and for tribal co-managers as well," he said.

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Bogaard added that pink salmon are one of the more resilient species of salmon.

“Because of the shorter life cycle of pink salmon, I think they are a bit more resilient to some of the habitat changes that we see — especially compared to other species," he said. "They're also especially good at colonizing new habitats and coming into new areas.”

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