Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: June 19, 2020
The Nushagak has apportionment, and its run is picking up. The Wood River run is coming along. Down on the Alaska Peninsula, the early Chignik run is off to an extremely low start for the third June in a row.
There are still no daily run summaries, but the Nushagak has reached apportionment. The crew filled the last strata yesterday morning.
There are four strata: inshore, offshore, and either side of the river. In order to apportion fish counts from the Nushagak sonar counter, biologists have to catch at least 5 fish in each of the strata. From those catches, they can extrapolate how many of each species of salmon are making it upriver.
The daily king count yesterday was 5,111 for a total of 9,199 so far this season. The tower counted 11,486 sockeye, that total is now 29,546, and the daily count for chum was 2,433 for a total of 4,846.
The Wood River tower has counted 990 so far this morning; yesterday the tower counted 6,990 fish for a total of 13,890.
Chignik Weir Counts
The Chignik weir count yesterday was 819 with 156 more as of noon today. The total escapement for 2020 so far is 12,860 fish.
That’s almost 35,000 fish less than this time last year, but about a thousand fish more than this time in 2018. In 2017, almost 151,000 fish had escaped by this point in the season, putting this year about 138,000 behind 2017. We’ll have more on the situation over in Chignik a little later in the show.
On the South Peninsula, the pink harvest has topped 1 million, at 1,073,294. The sockeye harvest is at 150,016. Chinook are at 1,624, the coho catch remains at 226, and chum are at 255,510.
The Port Moller Test Fishery didn’t fish yesterday due to rough weather. Today is looking better and the crew hopes to sample a good number of stations.
Technician Michael Link said in an email update, “The Ocean Cat is going to leave Port Moller in the next couple hours and run north into this mess.”
It should arrive at Station 20 about 13-14 hours after it departs. From there they will begin to fish southbound if conditions are fishable. The F/V Americanus, the backup to the Pandalus, left False Pass yesterday morning. It plans to head north this morning to fish outbound from Station 2 and the two vessels will meet mid-transect.
The timing of the first stock composition estimates of 2020 will depend on several factors, including how successful and productive fishing is tomorrow. We can provide more information about any possibilities in tomorrow evening’s update.
Link says that weather usually affects the test fishery operations a few days every season. He adds that the longer-range forecast looks encouraging.
COVID-19 cases: June 18, 2020
Update June 20: The state reported seven new cases in the Bristol Bay region, but that number could be inaccurate. According to an update today from Camai Health Center CEO and Director Mary Swain, the state reporting system has been delayed since last Sunday. Those seven cases were accumulations from the past week and there is a chance the state could have repeated cases that were already reported. KDLG is working on clarifying how many active cases are actually new.
This is a developing story.
The state announced seven new cases of COVID-19 in the Bristol Bay / Lake and Peninsula region. All were out of state seafood workers.
In an update, Camai director Mary Swain clarified that three of the cases were in Bristol Bay Borough and were reported on June 16th. Swain wrote that all three of the new cases had tested negative for COVID-19 before traveling to Alaska, and all are asymptomatic. One of the positive cases was a roommate of a previous positive case.
The Camai clinic in Naknek also asked fishermen to consider getting a test before heading out on the water. The Leader Creek Clinic is now open Wednesday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. People can call to set up an appointment at 907-246-4064, or at the Camai clinic at 907-246-6155.
Juneteenth in Alaska
One hundred and fifty-five years ago today, the last enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free, a full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. In honor of Juneteenth this year, KDLG’s Sage Smiley spoke with a local historian about the history of Black Americans, and racism, in the state of Alaska and here in Bristol Bay.
This spring not many fishermen participated in the herring fishery, and only one processor was buying. A total of three vessels were a part of the harvest this year, due to the pandemic. Any information regarding the herring harvest is confidential because only one processor was buying fish -- that processor was Icicle Seafoods. Area management biologist Tim Sands says this season was especially unusual.
“It was kind of a strange year, although you know it seems like every year is a little bit different and strange in some way," Sands said. "It was strange the way the fish entered the district. What was really strange was how fast the fish size went down. Typically our harvest will come in and the first couple days will be 400+ gram fish and this year we started at well below 400 grams and we went down to much smaller fish below 250 grams by the end and typically we don't see that.”
Weather for the herring season was generally good and didn’t hamper fishing, which continued until fishermen stopped going out on May 16.
Chignik’s sockeye run is off to a slow start this season. The latest escapement number as of June 19th 12:00 PM is now up to 12,860. Biologists aren’t expecting any commercial openers -- at least for the first run.
“Compared to the last two years, we’re comparable to both 2018 and 2019," said Ross Renick, the Chignik area management biologist. "As of right now, we are classifying the run as a weak run. Our escapement goals are currently for today, June 18th, our minimum escapement would be 128,000 sockeye. We are about 110,000 fish, 115,000 fish behind our minimum objective and the early run is classified as weak.
The Chignik sockeye runs dropped to record lows in 2018, when just under 539,697 sockeye returned, and there were no commercial openers. In 2019 it was only slightly better.
Renick doesn’t expect any commercial openers during the first run, due to low escapement. The late run in July could could be more robust, normal return but Ross says it’s too early to tell.
“So in Chignik we do have two stocks, we have the early run stock and the late run stock," he said. "Our late run stock typically starts to show up in early July, peaks in late July, and it’s too early to evaluate what the run strength is of the late run as of right now just because we just don’t see enough of those fish.”
Fish and Game will continue to monitor the run and open fishing if the run is strong enough.
“We do have a few biological indicators that the run is a little bit late, but it is still a little bit weak, in terms of the early run," Renick said. "The plan going forward is what we typically do, when we meet interim escapement objects, open the fishery when we have surplus fish to harvest. We’ll just evaluate the late run. We do have a forecast that will come out so we kinda use those as a guideline but we really need to evaluate fish and make sure we meet escapement goals before we allow any kind of fishing.” So the plan essentially moving forward is to evaluate the run strength and allow for commercial opportunity when it’s available.”
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