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Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: June 28, 2022

Alex Buholm.jpg
Alex Buholm
/
KDLG
A fisherman poses for KDLG's Alex Buholm.

The Nushagak River's sockeye escapement is now more than double its upper goal. Both the Nushagak and Egegik’s fleets hauled in huge harvests — Egegik’s fleet caught over 900,000 sockeye on Monday. Ugashik more than doubled its total harvest and had some hefty drift deliveries.

Fuel prices weigh on Bristol Bay’s fishery

The price of fuel is on the rise in the United States and many industries are feeling the pressure. Rural areas generally face higher prices for fuel, but in recent months, Bristol Bay residents have seen those prices creep even further.

Bristol Fuels in downtown Dillingham Gas set their price at $5.49. In Naknek, the same company charges even more, at $6.64 per gallon.

Shannon Williams is based out of Naknek and fishes on the east side of the bay. She said that she’s going to need to work harder to keep up with expenses.

"It's gonna be hard," she said. "I've got to pick a lot of fish to pay my bill."

But fishermen aren’t the only ones feeling the heat, tenders are having to face higher fuel prices on their deliveries.

Ed Wilbur, the manager of Copper River Seafoods in Togiak, said the prices this year are a major concern.

“In the long run, it's going to affect the bottom dollar on a lot of people this year," he said. "I mean, we filled up in Seward last year, I think it was two or three a gallon, this year it was $4.78. And then we're at $7 a gallon out here. So it's a 5,000 gallon fill up a couple of times, you know it's definitely gonna be hurting.”

Processors are also struggling with harsh market conditions, forcing them to have higher bottom lines as well.

“We’re seeing increases in our freight and our fuel. It’s across the board," said Travis Roenfanz, the company’s Bristol Bay manager. "Everything seems to be higher than what we’re anticipating for sure. And a really big issue that we’re faced with is just getting supplies with the shortages that are out there. It’s challenging just to get the things you need to operate.”

Peter Pan initially announced a base price of $1.00 per pound of Bristol Bay sockeye. A week later, it bumped that up to $1.15.

“We treat this as a partnership between ourselves and the fleet," said Roenfanz. "If they can't make a profit, we understand that they won't continue to do this as we're in the same boat. If we can't, at the end of the day, have a margin to work with, we wouldn't be here either.”

Vitus Energy charges $6.35 per gallon at their station in Dillingham — the highest in town. Mike Poston, the director of sales for Vitus, said the price hikes are due to issues in the global supply chain.

“As more ships are all working to move the same amount of product from one place to another, even though they’re moving the same number of gallons, it’s taking more vessels,” he said.

Prices vary around the area due to the various operating costs of their stores, but claims Vitus can’t do much to alleviate the high cost of fuel in the area.

“I was recently outside for a wedding and drove by a gas station in California, the price was over six bucks a gallon," he said. "So, when the price in Dillingham is similar to California, I’m thinking we’ve done okay.”

Until global supply chain issues are solved, fishermen, like the rest of the world, will have to work with what they have.

A check-in with Bristol Bay’s fishery managers

There was a huge burst of fish in the Nushagak District count on Monday. Fish and Game’s westside area management biologist, Tim Sands, said those numbers represent a big run over the last two days.

“There’s a lag between when the fish pushed through the district and when they get up to the sonar counter and the Wood River tower,” he said.

The Nushagak River’s sockeye escapement is now more than double the upper end of the river’s goal.

“The top end of the escapement goal range for the Nushagak is 900,000 and we’re over 2 million now, thanks to 800,000 yesterday," said Sands.

While it’s not a record for single-day escapement, it’s one of the largest daily counts on record in the last forty years.

Over to the east side of Bristol Bay, the Naknek-Kvichak District numbers have been quite a bit slower.

Eastside Area Management Biologist Travis Elison said it’s normal for the fish there to come in later than the other districts, but this year’s numbers are already bigger than most.

“That’s just kind of a normal pattern we see in run time and across Bristol Bay, but actually for this year, relative to past years in the Naknek-Kvichak District, we’re pretty much ahead of every year,” he said.

While the Naknek-Kvichak District is ahead of its historic patterns, Elison still doesn’t know whether it will be a record year.

“The forecast and kind of the way it’s looking wouldn’t necessarily be records for the Naknek-Kvichak District because the Kvichak in particular has had some gigantic runs decades ago but it is looking to be a big run,” he said.

Sands said both the Nushagak and the bay-wide runs are still on track for another record year.

“It is far ahead of last year, and far ahead of anything we’ve really ever seen but based on the forecast and what we expect, it’s kind of right on track for that,” he said.

While escapement is above Fish and Game’s goals, Sands says he still wants to consider the struggling Chinook and chum escapement.

“We made choices to let fish go by so that we could try and get kings and chums up the Nushagak and the only way to get kings and chums up the Nushagak is to also include getting more sockeye up there," he said.

The current record for Bristol Bay’s run was last year at over 67.7 million. This year’s forecast ranges from 62 million to as high as 89 million sockeye.

EPA extends comment deadline on its proposal to restrict mining the Pebble deposit

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it is extending its comment period for proposed restrictions on mining of the Pebble deposit. The comment period was originally set to end in July. Now, it will continue for two more months to September 6. Officials heard public testimony this month from residents from around the Bristol Bay region, many urging protections for the watershed and the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon runs.

28PebbleMine.mp3

Messages to the fleet
To Captain Brent Cathey on the F/V Independence:

Hey Snookums! Hope fishing is going well. Did your new satin pillowcase work out okay? I’m sorry I couldn’t find your favorite one. I think it’s packed in the same bag as the Clementine Mango Starfruit Kombucha Body Spray you like to use. Look there, but just in case, Matt Hakela on the Jenny M might have extra, his wife says he gets the body lotion by the case.

Okay, I’m off to reorganize your shop! Say Hi to the crew!

Love,

Montana Chick

To all our Homer friends fishing the bay, ITS A BABY GIRL! Mom and baby are doing great. Dads doing great, too. Wishing you full nets and safe fishing.

Love,

Pete, Claire and Baby Ingrid

If you’d like to get in touch or give some perspective, give us a call 842-5281 or send an email to fish@kdlg.org

The numbers

An astounding 3.8 million salmon came through Bristol Bay on Monday - the biggest single day of the run so far. 2.4 million were harvested. The biggest hauls came from the Egegik and Nushagak Districts, bringing total harvest to 7.8 million.

Bay-wide escapement was at 1.3 million, for a total so far of 4.1 million. An estimated 280,000 fish are in the rivers, and the bay-wide run is 12.2 million fish.

Nushagak District

The Nushagak District had over 2 million fish return to the bay for a season total of 6.85 million fish so far. Fisherfolk harvested about 884,000 fish on Monday for a total of 3.5 million salmon harvested. That’s the third time since the first opener last week that daily harvest has topped 800,000. Average sockeye per drift delivery was 1,056 fish.

Escapement was a whopping 1.2 million fish across the Nushagak District for a running total of 3.3 million salmon.

Nushagak River

The Nushagak River had a huge push of sockeye Monday. Over 800,000 fish made it past the river’s sonar.

2,609 Chinook were included in the push for a total escapement so far of 38,427 fish.

2,862 Chum made it through for a total for that species of 53,748 escaped fish.

And the Nushagak’s sockeye run was tremendous — 806,837 sockeye passed the sonar, bringing that escapement to over 2 million.

Wood River

The Wood River tower counted 384,222 fish swimming through Monday with another 56,100 as of 6 a.m. this morning. Total escapement for the Wood so far is at 1.3 million fish.

Igushik River

The Igushik River’s run has ramped up since the crew started counting this weekend. 13,194 fish were counted Monday along with another 4,800 this morning; Igushik total escapement is now at 20,574.

Togiak

Togiak District fishers caught 1,300 fish and average drift deliveries of 58 sockeye; the total harvest so far is 3,599. No escapement numbers from the Togiak District yet.

Naknek-Kvichak District

The Naknek-Kvichak District had about 414,764 fish swim through the waters, bringing that district’s total run to 1.4 million fish. 317,000 were harvested, pushing the total harvest there for over 1 million. Drifters brought in an average of 1,028 sockeye per delivery.

97,764 fish escaped, bringing the escapement total for the district’s three rivers to 315,906.

And to break it down by river,

Naknek River

The Naknek River still has the biggest run in the district with 93,528 fish so far. The river’s escapement total is now 242,628.

Kvichak River

The Kvichak River had only 4,236 fish come through for a total of 73,278. However, there are an estimated 100,000 fish in the river.

Alagnak River

No numbers for the Alagnak yet.

Egegik

In the Egegik District, about 938,996 fish came through on Monday with another 180,000 estimated in the river for a total run so far of 3.7 million fish.

Egegik’s harvest was the biggest in the bay that day with fisherfolk catching 914,000 salmon. Drift deliveries averaged 1,677. Total harvest for the Egegik district so far is now nearly 3.1 million fish.

24,966 fish escaped on Monday for a total season count of 470,622 salmon.

Ugashik

Ugashik had about 124,722 fish come through the district, for a total run of 238,604.

Harvest there more than doubled on Monday. Fishermen caught 123,000 fish and had the largest average drift delivery at 2,418 sockeye. Total harvest for Ugashik sits at 236,882.

We finally have escapement numbers for the Ugashik River. Monday’s count was 1,722 fish.

Chignik Weir 

Over in the Chignik Weir, 21,329 sockeye returned for an Early Run total of 178,302 fish. 1,614 Late Run sockeye came back for a total of 6,810. No Chinook were counted in the weir, so far only 6 have come back this season.

Area M

Area M fleets caught 203,759 salmon on Monday for a season total so far of 6 million salmon between the five species. Let’s break that down by species.

174,280 sockeye were caught, bringing the total so far to just under 4.4 million. Fishermen harvested 17,959 Pinks for a total of 1.1 million this season. They caught 11,389 chum for a season total of 505,218 fish. Chinook and chum harvest were much lower at 129 and 2 respectively. The total Area M Chinook harvest is now 3,385 and the silver harvest is 158 fish.

Port Moller Test Fishery

Stock composition from June 24-25

The test fishery crew sampled 421 fish and analyzed 189 salmon for the June 24-25 stock composition.

Over a third of the fish were headed to the Nushagak River at 35.1%. Egegik wasn’t too far behind, with 28.3% predicted to head that way. The Kvichak River estimate was much lower at 11.7%, Ugashik is expected to see 9.6%, the Wood will see about 7.9%, and the North Peninsula will see another 4.5%, and the Igushik River should see about 1.7%. The Alagnak, Kuskokwim, Naknek and Togiak Rivers will all see less than 1%.

North Peninsula 4.5%

Ugashik 9.6%

Egegik 28.3%

Naknek 0.3%

Alagnak 0.6%

Kvichak 11.7%

Nushagak 35.1%

Wood 7.9%

Igushik 1.7%

Togiak 0.1%

Kuskokwim 0.4%

Catches from June 27

Today’s catches were down again at Port Moller. Test fishery technician Scott Raborn says two low days is not abnormal – even for large runs – and he expects catch indices to bounce back on Wednesday.

Stations 2, 4, 12, 14, and 20 caught zero fish.

Station 6 caught 1 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 2 fish in the 5 ⅛. Their catch index is 8.

Station 8 caught 2 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 0 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 4.

Station 10 also caught 2 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 0 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 4 as well.

Station 16 caught 17 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 13 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 82.

Station 18 caught 1 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 0 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 3.

Brian Venua grew up in Dillingham and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. He got his start in journalism at KDLG in 2020, interviewing and writing for the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report and signed on as a full-time host and reporter later that year.
Corinne Smith is a reporter and producer who grew up in Oakland, California and on her family’s horse ranch in rural San Rafael, CA, a contrast that nurtured a deep appreciation for the complexities of identity and belonging, and connection to place, land and the natural world. She began her reporting career at KPFA in Berkeley, first as a general assignment reporter and then as lead producer of UpFront, a daily morning news and public affairs show. In 2020, she served as the summer reporter for KFSK in Petersburg where she first got hooked on Alaska stories. For the last year, she's been a general assignment reporter for KHNS based in Haines, and thrilled to experience a new part of Alaska and cover the Bristol Bay fishing season this summer with KDLG!
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.
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