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Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 4, 2019

Sage Smiley/KDLG

Happy July 4! The Nushagak District’s cumulative harvest is now at 7.1 million. Escapement in the Wood River has reached one million, while the Nushagak's king escapement is the lowest so far this summer. The Naknek-Kvichak’s total harvest is approaching 2 million, and Egegik is at 3.6 million.

The Nushagak District could be heading towards its third largest run on record! We sit down with management biologist Tim Sands to see how the season has gone so far.

And on this fourth of July, we head over to one of the greatest national parks in the country – Katmai National Park and Preserve – to witness its newest development. 

The Nushagak District could be heading towards its third largest run on record, following 2017 and 2018.

“It’s an exceptional year already. We’re over 8 million total run. It’s July 4 now but our numbers are basically through July 3,” said west side management bioligst Tim Sands. "“If our run’s a little bit late, we’re not even halfway yet, so this run will probably end up being the third largest run ever in the history of the district, and be very close to 2017.”

We’re just about at the historical midpoint for the Nushagak’s run, and the district’s total run is already 8.5 million fish. For context, from 1952 to 2002, the average run was just 4.2 million.

More than 1 million fish have now escaped up the Wood River. Sands expects to reach 1.1 million sometime today or early tomorrow morning. Once that happens, Fish and Game will open the Wood River Special Harvest Area to set netters, who have only harvested 17% of the district’s total catch so far. The drift fleet has harvested 80%. Overall, sockeye in the Nushagak and Wood have been running strong - though in more fitful pulses than last year. 

“Nushagak sockeye is also well ahead of schedule," Sands said. "We’re over the lower end of the escapement goal range, and my guess is, at the rate we’re going, it will be hard to keep it from going over the upper end of the escapement goal range. Same with Wood River sockeye.”

The Igushik is not doing as well. It has yet to reach the lower end of its escapement goal of 150,000 to 400,000. Sands says this summer is similar to 2016. 

“Because it’s such a long, windy river and it’s muddy, and I think it’s very prone to overheating there, that there’s more chance of a thermal barrier there as well,” Sands explained.

Heat is likely slowing king escapement in the Nushagak as well. Yesterday, only 46 were counted at the Nushagak River Sonar. And while recent openers did harvest almost 300 kings, Sands says sections of warm water there are likely bigger obstacles.  

The fish may be staying in deep holes with cooler water. According to Sand, there have also been reports of fish going belly-up and floating.

“The warmer the water gets, the less oxygen there is, and the fish are suffocating. We’ve only had a few reports in the Nushagak, but it’s definitely something that concerns us,” Sands said.  

The Nushagak Sonar may count sockeye more accurately, since kings are channel fish and might be swimming deeper and closer to the center of the river. Sands said the difference between the sockeyes' reaction to the thermal barriers and that of the kings might also be due to volume. 

“There’s so many sockeye that they can’t just hold there because there’s not enough room for them to hold," he said. "Whereas maybe there’s more room for the kings to hold. Maybe they’re going up more in the middle of the river outside the sonar, where the water’s deeper. Maybe they’re going at night. On the Igushik tower we’re seeing a lot more fish passage overnight than during the day.”  

Sands says he has heard of good subsistence harvest at Louis Point and Kanakanak Beach, and he’s optimistic that there’s another push of kings coming. Whether they make it past the sonar or hold in the lower river remains to be seen. 

Kings drove many of the management decisions earlier this season. The commercial fishery didn’t open until 100,000 sockeye had passed the Wood River tower on June 20. Fish and Game has also scheduled openers almost entirely on the ebb to allow kings to move through the district on the floods. 

It should be noted that the west side hit another milestone yesterday. Sands has managed the Nushagak District since 2003 – 16 years. Over that time, he’s seen a lot of openers and recorded a lot of catches – both herring and sockeye. Yesterday, the one billionth fish was killed under his management.

Like the Nushagak, fish in the Naknek-Kvichak have been seeing warm water and plenty of sunlight, and no strong winds to help move the fish into the district. Management biologist Travis Elison said it’s tough on the ectothermic animals.

"We've actually gotten to the point where we've seen some signs of heat stress in most of the rivers, actually," he said. 

According to Elison, hot water means less oxygen is available to the fish, and they are more susceptible to infections. And while hasn’t impacted the run on a large scale, it’s still concerning.  


"It's a fish here, a fish there kind of thing, compared to hundreds of thousands of fish escaping. So it's not really alarming, population-wise, but it is alarming that we're seeing fish stress from this weather," he explained. 

Fish and Game is just starting to observe these signs of heat stress, and they haven’t conducted any testing yet. Right now, water temperatures are hovering around 57 or 58 degrees Farenheit.

Credit Sage Smiley/KDLG

Until recently, Katmai National Park and Preserve had a problem. That problem was “bear jams.” 

Every year, thousands of visitors travel to Katmai, only to have their excursions in the park halted for hours at a time by bears near the seasonal bridge that crossed Brooks River – until now. 

On Sunday, Katmai held an opening ceremony for a new, permanent bridge aimed at fixing bear jams for good. 

KDLG’s Sage Smiley reports from the bridge’s ribbon cutting ceremony.


Credit Sage Smiley/KDLG


Harvest in the Nushagak District was 692,000 yesterday. The cumulative is now 7.1 million. 

Escapement past the Nushagak River Sonar was 23,500 yesterday, for a total of 428,600. Chum were at 20,400, for a cumulative 248,800.

Only 46 Chinook passed the sonar yesterday, inching the cumulative up to 37,200.

13,300 fish escaped past the Wood River tower this morning, for a total of 1 million.  The Wood River Special Harvest will likely open for set netters before the weekend. 

In the Igushik, escapement was at 4,000 yesterday. Total is now 30,500.


Togiak’s fleet caught 25,000 yesterday, for a cumulative of 81,100. 

Over on the east side, the daily catch in the Naknek-Kvichak was 381,000. Total harvest is now 1.9 million. 

Naknek River escapement was 59,000 yesterday for a cumulative of 614,000. The Kvichak River escapement was 5,000 for a total of 34,000. 

The Kvichak in-river estimate is 10,000. 

The Naknek Section’s current drift opener closes at 8:00 p.m. tonight. The Naknek Section will open to drifters for 9 hours tomorrow, from 2:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. The current set net opener in the Naknek- Kvichak District got a 15.5 hour extension, from 8:00 p.m. tonight until 11:30 a.m. Friday, July 5.

Breaking down escapement in the district by river system, 58,600 fish escaped past the Naknek counting tower yesterday, for a total of 614,000. In the Kvichak, 5,100 escaped yesterday for a total of 34,000. And Alagnak’s escapement was 3,500 for a total of 15,000.

In Egegik, yesterday’s catch came to 481,000. Total harvest is now 3.6 million. Escapement was 76,300 for a cumulative 623,500. After the Nushagak’s 8.5 million, Egegik has the largest total run at 4.3 million. 

Ugashik didn’t fish yesterday, so it’s cumulative harvest remained at 110,000. 


In the South Peninsula’s Area M, total harvest of sockeye has reached 622,100. 

In Area M on the North Peninsula, that harvest is 553,000. The majority of those fish were caught in the Port Moller to Outer Port Heiden area. 

The seventh set of stock composition numbers are in from July 1 and 2.

27% were going to Egegik, 23% were headed to the Wood, 15% to the Kvichak, 14% to the Naknek, 10% to the Nushagak, and 9% were heading to the North Peninsula.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org 907-842-2200.


Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.