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Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: August 2, 2019

Alex Hager

The harvest was the second largest in the history of the bay, at 43 million fish. The total run came to 56.3 million. Togiak broke its record for the largest harvest ever. Egegik and Nushagak saw some enormous hauls, and while Ugashik and the Kvichak were slow, the Naknek-Kvichak District as a whole saw its third-largest harvest.



It was another huge year for the bay. The harvest was the second largest in the history of the bay, at 43 million fish. The total run came to 56.3 million. Togiak broke its record for the largest harvest ever. Egegik and Nushagak saw some enormous hauls, and while Ugashik and the Kvichak were slow, the Naknek-Kvichak District as a whole saw its third-largest harvest.


Starting with the final daily run summary, we'll take a look at the west side.

Nushagak caught 3,000 fish yesterday, for a total of 14.7 million. Escapement was 200 and the cumulative escapement was 3 million. The total run there was the largest in the bay -- 17.8 million fish. That’s almost 8 million more than the preseason forecast. 

Togiak caught 27,000 fish yesterday. The cumulative harvest there is 882,500 -- the highest in the history of the district. Escapement was almost 16,000 for a total escapement of 297,300. The total run there is at 1.1 million. 


On the east side, the cumulative harvest in the Naknek-Kvichak came to 11.4 million. Escapement for 2019 was 6.1 million, and the total run is at 17.5 million.

In Egegik the cumulative harvest is 14.9 million. That’s the largest in the bay this season. The cumulative escapement came to 2.3 million -- that’s a bit over the upper end of the escapement goal of 2 million -- and the total run was 17.2 million. That is about 9 million over the preseason forecast.

Finally, in Ugashik, the cumulative harvest was 1 million. The escapement was actually larger than the harvest, at 1.5 million. And the total run came to 2.5 million. That’s the only district that came in below its preseason forecast, which was 3.3 million.


Now that we’re at the end of the summer, we can take a look back and see how the actual numbers compare with the preseason forecast. We’ll start with the actual baywide total run, which was 56.3 million fish. That’s actually a good bit higher than the forecast, 33% higher to be exact. The preseason outlook called for a run of 40.2 million fish. And that actual total makes this year’s baywide run the sixth biggest of all time.

It was a pretty impressive run across the bay, but some districts set their own milestones. Egegik posted a total run of 17.2 million, which is the district’s third biggest of all time. The Nushagak’s total run of 17.8 million was the second largest ever, only getting beat out by 2017. And Togiak currently has a total run of 1.18 million, which is the third biggest ever, but as we’ll discuss later in the show, there’s reason to believe that number could keep going up.

Throughout the season, we’ve turned our attention to every part of the Bay. From Togiak to Ugashik, from Area M to Iliamna, there’s been a lot going on in the region. Now that the season is coming to a close, we are going to take a look around the Bay one last time to see how the season turned out.

West Side

We talked to area management biologist Tim Sands for some of his takeaways on what turned out to be a record-breaking year. There were a lot of boats in the bay, but he says there were plenty of fish to go around.

Togiak had its best year ever. This latest daily run summary showed them breaking a harvest record that was set all the way back in 1988, and Sands thinks they still have plenty more fish coming their way.

So it was a really strong season for Togiak, and on the west side overall, but there was definitely reason for concern in some parts of the district.

It all has to do with the heat. Sands told us it was especially bad in Igushik, where hot water messed with the timing of the run and even lead to a bunch of fish going belly-up.

Finally, we asked him about Port Moller. We’re always seeing the latest numbers from the test fishery at the transect, but we haven’t really talked about whether or not those turned out to be accurate. So Tim has been keeping an eye on where, when, and how many fish show up on the west side of the bay, and he said Port Moller did a pretty spot-on job of predicting all that.


Port Moller


We talked to Scott Raborn, an analyst with the Port Moller test fishery. This year, the test fishery was out until July 17, and Raborn said that fishing a week longer showed them that there was still some tail to the run. 


“This year we did stagger the vessels," Raborn said. "But we got almost the entire season with two boats, and fished the entire transect, and found most of the fish migrating in the northern half of the transect.”

He said that the inshore catches matched Port Moller’s numbers better than in previous years, largely because they were fishing the entire transect.


“We’re sampling the entire run now," Raborn said. "In the past, if catches dropped off in the test fishery, you don’t even know if the migration magnitude had dropped off, or if the fish had just moved beyond the sampling station. And we could tease that apart this year, and it seemed to work quite well.”

The test fishery was also more accurate because they fished a full week longer than usual, and were able to better predict where those fish were headed. 


East Side


Looking at the east side, there were some big numbers there as well. Joe Stewart is the beach boss for Alaska General Seafoods in Naknek. 

“It was a great season," Stewart said. "Record number of fish, very steady, not the big balls and big waves of fish like usual. Fish and Game did a great job, fishermen did a great job. Everything went really well.”

That record number of fish referred to the over 18 million pounds of fish AGS processed this season. Another thing we talked about was the heat. Stewart said that during the hottest part of the summer, they had trouble with their ice machines. 


“We need extra ice in the totes," Stewart said. "Extra ice in the bins, and we were working those things overtime.

We also I spoke to the fleet manager for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, John Breigenzer. Ocean Beauty has a plant in Naknek and they also operate a floating processor in that district.  

They normally provide ice to the tenders to sell to the fleet, but Breigenzer said for a few days during the heatwave they stopped doing that because they were using all the ice they had.  

He said that he has never seen temperatures this high before, and that ice barges, RSW boats -- everyone was struggling to keep the fish cold. 


Egegik hauled in its third-largest harvest in the history of the district. The largest harvests are 21.6 million in 1993 and 15.6 million in 1992.

In Egegik there wasn’t a lot of compression this season. The fish spread themselves out through the duration of the run. There weren't a lot of drop downs and hiccups. And Breigenzer said they had consistent deliveries coming in on every tide in Egegik, and didn’t have any trouble handling the volume. He said it was a good year to be an Egegik fisherman. 

Looking at the Naknek-Kvichak District, Naknek actually passed the upper end of its escapement goal. 

Breigenzer said the fleet had nets in the water every tide. Ocean Beauty did wrap up a little early this year. The final boat has left the base of the Oceans Beauty dock. Last year they bought through August 3. This year we were done on July 27, a full week earlier this year than last year, due largely to the fact that the Kvichak didn’t come in as hoped. 

Port Moller suggested, both from catch and genetics, that we might see more fish in the Kvichak later in July. That river did meet its minimum escapement, but Breigenzer said the Kvichak really didn’t turn up as anticipated this year. 


Naknek Set-Net

Melanie Brown has been fishing on the north side of the Naknek for 40 years, on her great great grandfather’s site. She fished for nearly a month straight this season, and she really reiterated what we heard from the processors -- a really steady run on the east side. We caught her as she was travelling to Salmon Fest yesterday afternoon.


“Every time we went out it was worth our time," Brown said. "It was the kind of poundage that added up over the course of the summer, you know. It added up to a good season, and I think in a lot of ways that’s probably the best season anyone could ask for.”

The heat didn’t pose much of a problem for them, but Brown said she’d heard from tenders that the water was really warm, which may have shaped how the run moved in the river.  




Ugashik had a very late run that came in about a million below forecast. But the district actually surpassed its upper end escapement goal of 1.4 million, for a total escapement of 1.5 million fish. 


Curry Cunningham, a biologist with the University of Washington, said that talking to Fish and Game here in the Nushagak district, there were some similarities between the Ugashik and Igushik runs. 


Things started to pick up dramatically in the second half of July. On July 21, the district made up half of its total escapement to date. Cunningham says those big escapement numbers suggest that fish had already entered the district but were waiting to swim upriver until the water had cooled.


That wait was hard on Ugashik fishermen -- they had an 11-day closure in July. Once things cooled down, the fish came through. Birch Block has set net in Ugashik for seven years, and he says this is the first year he has seen more escapement than catch.


Block and his crew also saw hundreds of dead fish washed up on the beach this summer. They’re not sure of the reason, but he says he thinks it’s because of the heat. 


Ugashik fishermen who stuck around seemed like they did all right, but this was one of the latest runs ever there, and Block says the change from the days of inactivity to the sudden push of fish was dramatic. 


That late push of fish in Ugashik meant that fishermen who waited were still able to have a decent season. Block says there is one buyer, and there are still a few fishermen setting nets and drifting in the district.




It’s the end of the season, and most processors have been shutting down peak operations and bussing home workers in the past couple of weeks. At this point in August, we have an update on prices so far.


Icicle is paying $1.35 for sockeye and $0.40 for chum. For drifters fishing for Icicle there is an $0.08 bonus for bled sockeye in RSW only, $0.15 for sockeye chilled in ice or RSW, and $0.05 cent premium for floated fish. For set netters, there is also a $0.15 cent bonus for chilling.

Silver Bay Seafoods fishermen said they had a $1.35 base, with $0.25 for RSW and floating and 12 cents for bleeding and mats or slide.

Fishermen at Leader Creek said they had a $1.35 and bonuses for bled, RSW, floated, and mats or slide add up to 27 cents.

AGS has posted $1.35. We’ve also heard from fishermen for Red Salmon, Peter Pan, and Ocean Beauty, who say those processors are paying a $1.35 base price.

No word from Copper River yet. Trident declined to comment, and we didn’t reach E&E for comment. 


For some comparison, the 2018 baywide average price for sockeye were $1.26, and $1.56 after bonuses. Kings were $0.80, $1.02 after bonuses. Chum were $0.36, $0.37 after bonuses. Finally, Silvers were $0.80.

Last year’s wholesale prices for fresh headed & gutted sockeye: $4.13

Frozen headed & gutted sockeye came to $3.87, and there was a gross profit of $2.57 per pound for fresh and $2.31 for frozen. 

Last year’s baywide exvessel value: $344 million dollars for just over 259 million pounds of fish, or almost 50.6 million fish.


That about wraps things up for this show and for the 2019 Bristol Bay Fisheries Report. Instead of our usual messages to the fleet tonight, we’d like to send out a message of our own.

From Izzy: I can’t tell you how great it has been to work on the fish report this summer. Thank you to each and every fisherman, processor, biologist, manager who has given us time and insight to make this show happen. To everyone listening back home, wherever that might be, thank you for all the great messages to the fleet. I also just want to say thank you to the people in the studio who made this report possible – our general manager, Sam Gardner, and to our interns – Kaylee Lopez, Abbey Whitcomb and Kendra Kapotak. Thank you to Marilyn Rosene and Marjorie Dunaway for all your help with the fund drive. A big thanks to Tyler Thompson for covering local news single-handedly this summer. And finally, a huge thanks to Sage Smiley, our fish reporter in Naknek, for dealing with spotty internet and phone service to get us that east side perspective. 


From Alex: It’s been such an honor to be part of this fishery for a summer, and I can’t thank you enough for tuning in to our show every night. Whether you’ve been tuning in to the AM station on your boat, or listening online from anywhere in the world -- thank you. I’ve learned a ton this summer and had a lot of fun along the way. My next stop will bring me to Aspen Public Radio in Colorado, but I’ll never forget the adventures, people, and fish reports that were part of my summer in Bristol Bay.


For anyone who wants to get in touch, you can reach out at or give us a call at 842-5281

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.