Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: June 30, 2020
The total run in the bay passed 3 million yesterday. Kings are still low in the Nushagak, and the sockeye aren’t pushing that hard yet, either. The sockeye run up the Chignik River is roughly half of what it was at this point in 2018, when the fishery saw its lowest run since statehood.
Check out the run numbers on our daily numbers page, or at the bottom of the page.
Organizer asks Alaska delegation to advocate for PPP extension
Today is the last day for commercial fishing businesses and fishermen to apply for funds from the Paycheck Protection Program.
The Department of the Treasury changed the PPP last week to include fishermen and crewmembers at the urging of the Alaska Congressional Delegation. Fishermen were previously considered “self-employed,” which barred them from applying for PPP funds for crew salaries.
The state announced the rule change on June 25, giving fishermen and fishing businesses only five days to apply for funding.
Ephraim Froehlich, a consultant for the Fishing Communities Coalition, says his organization has asked Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski to advocate for extensions to the PPP, a cause he says he feels hopeful about.
“I think that’s realistic, I don’t think it’s just fishermen who are still facing hurt,” he says. “I think we are some of the only ones who have been unable to access it as an entire industry, but everybody, if you look at the economy, everybody needs the PPP to keep going. The economy is not fully open, people aren’t getting paychecks.”
Froehlich says he and the fishermen’s organizations he works with hope to see greater structural changes to how economic disaster relief and Department of Agriculture funding are distributed to the seafood industry in the future.
OBI Seafoods reported one new case of COVID-19 Monday at its Wood River plant in Dillingham. The person works for the company as a seafood processor. They are the fourth close contact of the 12 OBI cases announced June 22. The others were announced by the city on June 26 and 27. They were asymptomatic. All the OBI workers who tested positive are currently being treated by the company medic, according to the City of Dillingham. The people who tested positive have been moved into separate isolation facilities within their company's closed campus. The city is working with OBI, BBAHC and the state on contact tracing.
OBI identified the positive cases in its workers as part of the company’s quarantine and testing protocol, according to the City of Dillingham. The company tested all workers before they travelled to Dillingham, and then twice during quarantine. The city also said the company is putting additional sanitation protocols in place.
Two seafood processing workers tested positive for COVID-19 at the Icicle Seafoods plant in Egegik last week. According to an update from Lake and Peninsula Borough Manager Nathan Hill, the cases are not linked to another positive case it reported in mid-June. The total number of positive cases at Icicle's Egegik plant is now at three. The cases were identified as part of the company's mandatory 14-day quarantine. In the update, Hill says the employees “have been isolated from others and are doing well.”
Chignik’s 2020 run could be worst since statehood, at just half of 2018 numbers
The sockeye salmon run at the Chignik Weir is currently below what it was at this point in 2018, when the region saw its lowest return since statehood. In 2018, the run was at roughly 143,000 sockeye. The run this year is just under 70,000.
“Roughly half of what we saw in 2018 is our current state of the run. Typically the peak of our run happens right around the last week of June, and we just really haven’t seen that peak yet this year,” said Ross Renick, the Chignik area management biologist for Fish and Game.
In the early 1950s there was a run estimated at around 35,000, according to Renick, but since Alaska became a state, the region hadn’t seen a run worse than 2018 until now.
Renick says Chignik primarily has 3-ocean fish -- or fish that spent three years in the ocean and two in freshwater. The fish coming back are five years old -- from the 2015 brood class, which was relatively strong, with about half a million fish returning to spawn. Because of that, he thinks the reason fewer fish are returning is environmental.
“Most likely it’s environmental conditions, as to why these fish are not surviving, either in the ocean or in Black Lake. Black Lake is the lake that they return to and they have had deteriorated lake conditions for several years now,” he says.
The early run spawns in Black Lake, and the water levels there have dropped since the 1970s. That deteriorating habitat means the fish have less opportunity to rear. University of Washington has monitored habitat at Black Lake for decades.
“What they’ve seen since they’ve been out there since the ‘20s – that lake level has really dropped significantly over time. So that’s the sockeye up there really losing a lot of habitat,” Renick says.
The Chignik’s late run, however, is actually stronger than what it was in 2018. Fish and Game uses an average genetics model each season to apportion fish from one run to the other, and Renick says the curve over the past ten years attributes more fish to the late run.
“That number could fluctuate, depending on when we really, really start to see [the run] transition from the first to second run,” he says. “There is hope, because the late run last year was much stronger than the early run, that there will be harvest opportunity. But we just have to track it and monitor and see what it comes in, it seems like.”
Renick says that those fish spawn in Chignik Lake, so the rearing conditions could be more favorable.
“A large percentage of our late run fish are actually freshwater 2 fish. And our early run are most dominantly freshwater 1 fish. So the rearing habitats are a little bit different,” he explains. “Chignik Lake is a very large lake compared to Black Lake, which is much smaller. So there is opportunity for those fish to utilize that Chignik Lake habitat. A lot of the Black Lake fish do come down to Chignik Lake, but it usually takes them a little bit to get down there, and they could just not be surviving from Black Lake to Chignik Lake during that transition period.”
How that habitat affects the early life stages, Renick says, could be one reason for why the late run is doing better.
West side update
KDLG's Kendra Kapotak has this update on fishing in the Nushagak District:
The wind was able to pick up quite a bit over the weekend, but it didn’t make a big dent in the king run for the Nushagak. Management biologist Tim Sands says he is still worried about kings.
“Definitely behind on kings still, and that is one of our biggest concerns," Sands sasy. "We are trying to do everything we can to get kings up the river. That's why we're taking breaks in fishing. Any time we can take a break, we are going to. I am very surprised we had all that wind over the weekend. I really thought we would either see an increase in catches or increase in escapement, and we didn't.”
Sands said the low king numbers could just be because the run is late, ore because of environmental conditions affecting the fish.
“It could be late run timing, could be a smaller run than expected, we won't know for a while. But we take it day by day, look at the latest information we got, and make our best decisions, and hope it all works out,” he says.
For commercial openers to be affected by low king escapements, there would need to be a big sockeye push, and Sands says we just haven’t seen that yet.
“We’re not seeing so much sockeye push in that we are needing to fish hard to control that sockeye escapement. So it's allowing us to take those breaks for kings,” he says.
As of June 30, the sockeye run in the Nushagak was at 315,000 sockeye. The King run is at 30,700.
Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s third harvest report of the season shows sockeye harvest in Bristol Bay lagging just under 80% behind where it was in 2019. However, according to Garrett Evridge from the McDowell Group, production is still ahead of where it was 2015 and 2016. Total harvest in the bay was about 1.5 million as of Sunday evening, which lags significantly behind 2019’s late-June harvest of 7 million fish.
The Nushagak represents just over half of the total bay run so far this year.
Cumulative catch in the Nushagak passed 1 million fish yesterday, after fishermen harvested 285,000 sockeye. That was caught 5% by Igushik set-netters, 26% by Nushagak set-netters, and 69% by the drift fleet.
A combined 72,800 fish escaped up the rivers in the Nushagak district yesterday, bringing the season total escapement in the district so far to 670,000.
The drift fleet in the Nushagak finished an opener at 3:30pm this afternoon, and set-netters are nearing the end of an opener that ends at 7:30pm tonight.
The Nushagak River sonar counted 30,800 sockeye yesterday, which brings escapement to 315,000 sockeye.
The sonar also logged 3,900 chum past the counter, for a Nushagak chum escapement of 41,900. 800 kings passed the sonar yesterday, for a running season total king escapement of 30,700 in the Nushagak.
In the Wood River, the counting tower crew had counted 19,700 sockeye as of 6am this morning, bringing the running total escapement in the Wood River to 355,000.
And in the Igushik River, the tower crew counted 1,700 fish as of 6am this morning, rounding out escapement in that river at 21,600 so far.
Togiak once again more than doubled its total run with yesterday’s catch of 1,500 fish. We don’t have escapement numbers in the Togiak district. The total run is 2,400 fish.
A daily harvest of 200,000 sockeye in the Naknek-Kvichak district almost doubled the running total season harvest of 469,000. That breaks down to 6% from Kvichak set-netters, 19% from Naknek set-netters, and 75% from the drift fleet in the Naknek.
10,000 fish escaped in the Naknek-Kvichak district yesterday: 1,000 up the Kvichak river and 9,000 up the Naknek. That brings total escapement in the district up to 122,000: a total of 2,500 fish in the Kvichak river so far this season and 120,000 up the Naknek.
Drift and set-net fishermen had openers that ended at 3pm this afternoon, and will have another 8 hour opener starting at 8am tomorrow morning. That’s in the full district for set-netters, and in the Naknek section for drift boats.
In the Egegik district, fishermen caught 80,000 fish yesterday, bringing the total harvest so far in Egegik to 556,000. The total catch is attributed 13% to Egegik set-netters and 87% to the drift fleet in that district.
Daily escapement in Egegik was 19,200, making the running total of escapement up the Egegik river 194,000.
Egegik set-netters had an opener that closed at 3am this morning. Both drift fleet and set-netters in Egegik will have an opener starting at 7:30am tomorrow morning.
No fish were caught in Ugashik yesterday, so the harvest is still 18,300.
2,000 fish escaped upriver in Ugashik yesterday, bringing the total escapement so far to 4,600.
As of 5 p.m. yesterday, 2,760 sockeye had passed the Chignik Weir. The season total is past the Chignik weir is now 67,118. The early run is at 64,961. The late run is at 2,157. No chinook passed the weir, and no pinks had passed as of 5 p.m. yesterday. We’ll have more on the situation there a little later in the show.
In Area M, fishing on the South Peninsula was closed yesterday. Fishers harvested 2,300 sockeye yesterday, bringing the season’s harvest to 365,000.
Fleet also caught 37 kings, bringing the total king harvest to 3,000.
Permit registration on June 30 9:00 a.m. to July 2 at 9:00 a.m.
As of 9am this morning, there are 1,264 boats fishing across the bay, 361 of which are D boats. That will increase to 1,277 vessels at 9am on July 2, 367 of which will be D boats.
Effort by district breaks down like this:
The Nushagak still has the largest chunk of the bay’s fleet, with 511 boats representing 40% of the baywide boats fishing. 158 of the boats fishing the Nushagak are D boats. At 9am on Thursday, that number will increase by two boats, one single permit vessel and one D boat, for a total of 513 boats.
28% of the boats in the bay are fishing in the Naknek-Kvichak district. That’s 375 boats, 102 of which are D boats. In 48 hours, there will be 363 boats fishing in the Naknek-Kvichak, but the number of D boats will stay the same.
Egegik’s effort is just below the Naknek-Kvichak at 27% of the fleet. 338 boats are fishing in Egegik, 94 of which are D boats. At 9am on Thursday, that will increase to 340 boats, with 97 D boats.
Togiak still represents just 3% of the fleet. 36 boats are fishing in the Togiak district, and no D boats. That won’t change in the next 48 hours.
And 2% of the bay’s fleet is fishing in Ugashik. Right now there are 22 boats fishing there, 7 of which are D boats. That will increase to 25 boats at 9am on July 2, 9 of which will be D boats.
Over in the Port Moller test fishery, the Ocean Cat was able to fish stations 12 to 16 yesterday, despite poor inshore weather conditions.
Breaking down what they caught:
Station 12 had an index of 73 -- 14 in the 4 ½ and 19 in the 5 ⅛.
Station 14 had an index of 22 -- 8 in the 4 ½ inch mesh.
Station 16 had an index of 73 -- 15 in the 4 ½ and 29 in the 5 ⅛.
Correction: The percent allocations of harvest by gear type are calculated from the cumulative harvest, not the daily catch as initially reported.