Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: June 20, 2022
Welcome to the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report! A huge push of salmon swam up the Wood River on Sunday, putting Nushagak District fishermen on short notice. Egegik fishermen hauled in around 44,000 fish. While we wait on numbers from the counting towers, some seafood processing companies aren’t waiting to dole out their base prices.
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Nushagak fishermen still on standby
Fishermen in the Nushagak District were waiting on the edge of their seats over the weekend. Fish and Game put them on short notice so that they’d be prepared to fish, after a big pulse of fish up the Wood River.
But Tim Sands, area management biologists for the West Side of the bay, said they’re holding off on fishing to allow as many king and chum salmon up the river as possible.
They are waiting for at least 100,000 sockeye to swim up the Wood River before they consider an opener.
"Based on the escapement rate in the Wood River, we can decide if we wait a little bit past 100,000, or if we have to go right away," he said.
The run has fluctuated quite a bit in the last few days. On Sunday morning, a big influx of fish arrived in the district.
"We had a big push of fish go by — a lot up the Nushagak, not so much up the Wood, but our Wood River escapement's now 73,000 as of 6 o'clock this morning," he said. "So not at 100,000 yet and slowing down. [Sunday morning] we had 20,000 fish go by in six hours, and that got us concerned that if it kept up at that rate we would be over 100,000 by midnight."
But that Wood River run slowed down, and it’s continuing at a slower pace today.
"So we think we can wait a little bit longer to allow more king and chum salmon to get in the district and get up the Nushagak, and that's what we're doing," he said.
The Chinook run this season is off to a better start than in recent years. 3,618 Chinook passed the sonar Sunday for a total of 21,500 so far this season. It’s struggled to meet the 55,000 minimum escapement mark since 2019.
On the East Side, we caught up with the management biologist for the Egegik and Ugashik districts Aaron Tiernan.
“Specifically for Egegik (district) early season harvests last week were good," he said. "They were above average for that time. And then once we got our assessment projects in the water, the in-river test fishery and in the tower, they started seeing fish right away with some decent numbers for the first few days in the season. So that was very good news. But then the harvest from Sunday evening seemed a little light for what we have been thinking. But yeah, this might be a little low here. And hopefully with this weather system, you're coming in, it might push some fishing.”
Tiernan said Fish and Game has scheduled breaks between openers to allow for king salmon escapement.
“So for kings, the early season schedule that set up from 9 a.m. Monday to 9 a.m. Wednesday, and then 9 a.m. Thursday to 9 a.m. Friday. The reason why there's that little break midweek and then the weekends off is for king salmon and allow some of those to escape into the river system.”
Tiernan said another good sign in the district so far is that the fish appear larger than they were in 2021.
“Their sizes seem to be a little bit bigger than they were last year. So that's nice. We did see a lot of smaller, smaller sockeye last year. Seems like this year, they're a little bit bigger than they were early on here. So that's a good sign.”
The Ugashik counting tower is going up on June 24, and counts will start around June 27.
A record forecast
This season is forecast to break the record for the largest sockeye run on record to Bristol Bay, which was set just last year. Fish and Game predicts that more than 75 million sockeye will return, and the University of Washington's forecast is at just over 71 million.
Industry analysts say the Bristol Bay fleet probably won’t be able to harvest the 60 million fish that may be available; the bay-wide harvest has never surpassed 45 million.
Bristol Bay saw the largest total sockeye salmon run on record last year at close to 68 million fish, according to the state Department of Fish and Game. But chum salmon runs up the Nushagak River were far lower than average. This year, in an effort to preserve the run, Fish and Game is delaying openers for sockeye fishing as part of its management strategy.
Fish and Game reports last year the bay-wide commercial harvest of chum salmon was the lowest on record for the second year in a row, at just over 212,200 fish. The Nushagak District is the only area where escapement is assessed in the bay. The escapement was 125,400, well below the lower bound escapement goal of 200,000 fish.
The Nushagak is the only district that monitors escapement for chum or kings in the Bristol Bay region. Other districts do monitor harvests. Tim Sands, with Fish and Game, said the Nushagak River’s 2021 chum run was dismal.
“It's the lowest run we've seen in the last 20 years. Our total run estimated only about 240,000, 125,400 escapement and 115,000 the harvest. So it's quite, quite low," he said. "Our 20-year average is around a million. So we're only a quarter of that.”
The Naknek-Kvichak District harvested 34,300 chum — the lowest since 2004. The total harvest for king salmon was 990 fish, which is below the 20-year average harvest of 1,700 fish. In the Egegik District, the chum harvest was 20,300 fish below the 20-year average of 76,400. The total harvest for king salmon harvest was 475 fish, below the 20-year average of around 800 fish. In the Togiak district, the chum harvest was 21,300 fish, which was 13 percent below the 20 year average. The king harvest was 729 fish which was also 13% below the 20 year average.
Sands said the management strategy is to monitor escapement closely — both for chum and king salmon, which tend to run together. The escapement goal for chum is at least 200,000. For kings, it’s 55,000 fish.
Sands said biologists don’t really know why Bristol Bay’s chum harvest was low. But he believes it’s connected to conditions in the open ocean. He said his department is not currently researching causes, but it is monitoring the runs.
“We believe it's an ocean situation. The Nushagak was not the only place that didn't have a strong chum run. All across western Alaska chums were noticeably absent," he said. "I don't know if somebody down in Juneau has a project that's going on. Or, or there's other research going on, but locally, here, we don't have any research into that.”
Chum salmon spend less than one year in freshwater as juveniles, and spend up to five years in the ocean. About 99 percent return after three to four years in the ocean.
From 1990 to 2009, chum returns averaged over 800,000 fish. Last year, the total Bristol Bay chum harvest was just over 316,000 fish. Fish and Game reported the average weight was 5.5 pounds and priced at 40 cents per pound, bringing in roughly $675,000. That’s typically about four percent of the total Bristol Bay salmon harvest.
Messages to the fleet
For the guys on the Linda K:
Wishing you a great season
All my love
To Mike Dore at Big Creek in Egegik from Cass Theodorson. Please stop taking my personal property from John Dore’s and my fish camp.
At the Nushagak River sonar, 72,252 sockeye passed yesterday, for a total of 115,599 up the river so far.
The Nushagak River is forecasted to see 18 million sockeye return.
3,618 Chinook passed for a total of 21,500 so far this season.
And 4,435 chum salmon passed the sonar, for a total of 14,597.
43,890 salmon passed the Wood River counting tower yesterday — the vast majority of the season’s run up the Wood so far. Another 5,520 swam up as of 6 a.m. The total count so far is at 73,884.
About 9 million sockeye are expected to return to the Wood.
No counts from the Igushik or Togiak towers yet. The Igushik’s forecasted return is about 2 million sockeye. Togiak’s forecast is a little over 1 million sockeye.
30,000 fish escaped past the Egegik tower on Sunday, and Egegik fishermen caught a total of 44,000 fish. The season’s escapement is at 49,000 and the total harvest is at 195,000.
Fish and Game says that data from the in-river test fishery shows fish passage has slowed down a bit.
Egegik is expected to see around 16 million sockeye.
The Naknek and Kvichak tower crews will start counting in the next couple days.
The Kvichak is expected to see 8 million sockeye. The Naknek could see a little more, at 8.4 million. Alagnak numbers will start to come in next week. The Alagnak is forecast to get around 4 million.
We’re still waiting on numbers from Ugashik. Around 6 million fish are predicted to return to the Ugashik River.
Chignik Weir Counts
At the Chignik River weir, 9,090 sockeye swam through the weir yesterday, and another 8,292 passed through as of 8:30 a.m. today. The cumulative escapement so far this season is at 50,614.
In Area M, the sockeye harvest through Sunday was 2.3 million. Chinook harvest was at 1,548. The South Peninsula's South Unimak and Shumagin Islands fleets harvested almost all of that catch.
Pink harvest was at 553,590. Chum were at 205,618 Coho was at just 152.
Port Moller Test Fishery
The Research Vessel Pandalus has retired. In her place, the test fishery team has chartered the Halfmoon Bay as a research vessel, along with the Ocean Cat. The Halfmoon Bay will house an at-sea genetic lab this season. The test fishery plans to conduct all genetic testing at sea. They’ll email that data to Fish and Game geneticists in Anchorage. That’s where we get the stock composition numbers, folks!
Station 2 No fish caught at station 2, so that index is 0.
Station 4 caught 0 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 2 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 5.
Station 6 caught no fish.
Station 7 caught 13 fish in the 4 ½ and 35 in the 5 ⅛. The catch index there is 120.
Station 8 caught 52 in the 4 ½ and 99 in the 5 ⅛ for an index of 252.
Station 9 caught 43 in the 4 ½ and 17 in the 5 ⅛, bringing that index to 157.
Station 10 caught 43 in the 4 ½ and 38 in the 5 ⅛. That index is 194.
Station 11 caught 11 in the 4 ½ and 45 in the 5 ⅛, bringing that station index to 82.
Station 12 there were 8 fish caught in the 4 ½ and 4 in the 5 ⅛, for an index of 24.
Station 13 caught no fish.
Station 14 caught no fish.
Station 16 caught 20 in the 4 ½ and 5 in the 5 ⅛, for an index of 48.
Station 18 caught 2 in the 4 ½ and 0 in the 5 ⅛. That index is 4.
Station 20 caught no fish.
The test fishery used data from 188 fish for the analysis from June 16-17.
North Peninsula 1.1%
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