Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 1, 2019

Jul 1, 2019

The Coast Guard calls off its search for a crewmember of the F/V Pail Rider who fell overboard early this morning. Also, a look at the end of the comment period on Pebble's draft EIS.

Drifters on the Nushagak Bay.
Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG


A crew member of the fishing vessel Pail Rider went overboard around 3 a.m. Monday in the Nushagak Bay, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. A ten-hour search for the crew member was called off around 4 p.m. that afternoon.


The Coast Guard spent the day searching the water for the missing crew member, who was reported to be a man in his thirties. The search efforts utilized two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, a C-130 Hercules aircraft and ten good samaritan fishing vessel crews. After the team covered 650 square nautical miles and was unable to locate the missing man, they called off the search. 

Nate Littlejohn, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard, said that decision was made based on multiple factors.

"One of the most important factors we consider is how much time have we spent," Littlejohn said. "What is the span of the search area, what is the water temperature. And the likelihood of survival in a water temperate of 52 degrees with no life jacket in ten hours, it's not likely."

The Coast Guard said it would resume the search if a sighting was reported, and it hoped that the crew member’s bright orange clothing would increase those chances.

Littlejohn said that wearing a life jacket is one of the best ways to increase the chance of survival in similar incidents. 

"If you're always wearing a life jacket when you're on a boat," he explained. "Your chances of survival are much greater. If you enter the water, especially up here in Alaska, your chances of making it home to see your loved ones becomes greatly reduced without one."

Approximate conditions in Nushagak Bay at the time the crew member entered the water included 20 mph winds, 10-mile visibility, one-foot seas, a water temperature of 52 degrees and an air temperature of 54 degrees.


Testimony at the USACE's public hearing on Pebble's draft EIS in Kokhanok, March 2019.
Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG

More than 91,000 comments were submitted over the 120-day period. And that number is likely to climb.


The comment window was originally 90 days, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers extended it to July first. 


Opponents of the project have expressed frustration that new information is being added without time to weigh in. Rick Halford is a former state senator, and a longtime opponent of the mine. Among his main concerns with the current proposal is the project’s impact on the Upper Talarik Creek, a drainage near the proposed mine site. 


"They describe their project as straddling the drainages of the South Fork and the Upper Talarik Creek," Halford said. "You can’t dig a 17- or 1,800-foot-deep hole at the edge of the creek and expect the creek not to run into it.”


The executive summary of the draft points to evidence of groundwater exchange between drainage basins from the South Fork Koktuli River to the Upper Talarik Creek Tributary, noting that there is limited hydrogeologic data from that area.


Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole said the company moved all major mining facilities out of the Upper Talarik Creek watershed in its application to the corps. However, an access road to the mine site would still traverse that drainage. The southern half would run along First Creek, which drains into the main Upper Talerik drainage.


"The pit will pull some water in from Upper Talarik that is part of our strategic water release plan that gets returned once it’s been run through the process plant and treated and meets the discharge requirements the state sets for water discharge,” Heatwole said.  


Over the next few months, Pebble will conduct routine work on drill holes – according to Heatwole, several are seeping water and still require maintenance. It will also continue to gather environmental data, including wetlands mapping near Kokhanok, one of the communities closest to the mine.


Another point of contention was land access around the mine site. Pebble struck a deal with the Alaska Peninsula Corporation last November, and another with Iliamna Natives Limited in May. Those agreements meant that certain transportation routes were more feasible. But the corps’ alternatives also include roads through land that belongs to Pedro Bay and Igiugig Native Corporations. On Sunday, INC issued a comment effectively removing its lands from consideration, stating that increased barge and transportation along the northern corridor will have a direct impact on the corporation’s operations at Diamond Point, one of the proposed ports.


The Army Corps has said in the past that because it had not received a formal statement from those corporations, it still considered those to be feasible alternatives. It is scheduled to release the final EIS in early 2020. 


Across the Bay, total harvest is now at 8.3 million fish, with Naknek-Kvichak just shy of 1 million, and Nushagak pushing 5 million. New stock composition numbers from Port Moller are in, and catch indices are heavily weighted towards outer stations.

Harvest in the Nushagak District was 801,000 sockeye salmon yesterday for a cumulative of 4.8 million and 714 king salmon for a cumulative of 15,900. 

The Igushik had an escapement of 4,000 yesterday, for a total of 20,000. 

Wood River escapement was 129,000 yesterday. As of 6:00 a.m. this morning, escapement was 24,000 for a cumulative of 732,000. Nushagak sockeye salmon escapement was 65,000 yesterday for a cumulative of 308,000. Nushagak king salmon escapement was 1,800 yesterday for a cumulative of 35,200. 

In Togiak, total escapement is at 21,500. 

Over to the east side, in Egegik, harvest yesterday was 361,000 for a cumulative harvest of 2.4 million fish. Escapement was 51,000 for a total of 469,000 fish. The total run is just below 3 million. 

The Naknek River escapement yesterday was at 115,800, for a total is 414,100. The Kvichak River had an escapement of 580 yesterday. Total escapement there is now 12,100. The Alagnak River had an escapement of 1,300, and a cumulative of 5,000. 

In Ugashik, yesterday’s harvest was at 39,000, for a cumulative harvest of 83,000 fish. Escapement was 2,100 for a cumulative total of 6,000 fish.


Catch this program nightly live at 6 p.m., with replays at 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on AM 670, and online at (With early broadcasts of the numbers Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.)

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Contact the author at 907-842-2200.