Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 14, 2021

Jul 14, 2021

It’s the midpoint of the KDLG pledge drive! Call us at 907-842-5281 or donate at kdlg.org.

Bristol Bay’s run is 3 million fish over its pre-season forecast -- more than 54 million fish have returned so far. The Naknek-Kvichak’s fleet had the biggest catch of the day, as more than 700,000 fish were hauled in, and the Kvichak saw a sizable escapement. Ugashik’s harvest was over 600,000 for the third day in a row.

Fish hanging to dry in Aleknagik. July 4, 2021.
Credit Stephanie Maltarich/KDLG

Smaller sockeye are part of a larger trend of shrinking salmon

The sockeye returning to Bristol Bay this year are smaller. The average fish this summer weighs just 4.5 pounds -- down more than half a pound from 2020, according to data from the Mckinley Research Group.

That has been a trend over the past four decades, as increasingly smaller fish have returned to the bay amid larger salmon runs and warming oceans. That’s according to Dan Schindler, a fisheries professor at the University of Washington who has researched Bristol Bay salmon for decades.

“The size of fish has declined for their age. So the size of 2-ocean fish has been declining slowly over time, and the size of 3-ocean fish has been slowly declining over time,” he said.

A salmon’s age is measured by how many years it spends in the ocean. A 2-ocean fish, for example, has spent two years in the ocean before returning to its spawning grounds.

Until recently, scientists and the fishing community didn’t pay much attention to the shrinking salmon trend. That’s because in the 1970s, more salmon started to spend an extra year in the ocean. And older fish usually come in bigger than their younger counterparts.

“This transition to more 3-ocean fish obscured the fact that fish were getting smaller for their size,” he explained.

Fry heading out to the ocean. July 13, 2021.
Credit Brian Venua/KDLG

But in the last 10 years, more fish have returned after two years. And those fish are coming in relatively small for their age.

“So right now we’re sort of seeing the effect of a double whammy on fish size. And the last four or five years -- we’ve seen a lot of really small fish in the catches and the escapements," he said "That’s because there’s a lot of 2-ocean fish, and those 2-ocean fish are relatively small given the history of Bristol Bay.”

But why are those 2-ocean fish coming in smaller? Schindler said there are likely two major factors.

First, he said, the size of the run can affect the size of the fish. Big runs tend to have smaller fish because there is more competition for food.

There were record-high catches of salmon in the North Pacific in recent years, according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. Last year was an anomaly in the trend toward larger populations, as catches dropped to the lowest levels in four decades.

Schindler thinks the recent abundance is due to an increase in hatchery pink and chum salmon.

“This declining size at a given age is really a function of more hungry mouths from lots of Bristol Bay fish, but also more hungry mouths that we’re dumping out into the ocean,” he said.

Warming oceans also may play a role. But Schindler says the connection is less direct. Warmer oceans have been correlated with increased survival for Bristol Bay salmon, which means more competition for food.

Juvenile salmon also grow substantially faster in warmer freshwater. As the surface water temperature gets warmer, salmon are able to grow faster. Juveniles eat plankton, and because the ice breaks up earlier in the spring, plankton have more time to grow.

A new app aims to gather fishermen's observations of climate change

This summer, commercial fishermen have an opportunity to become scientists... skipper scientists that is. The Skipper Science app allows fishermen to record their observations as they relate climate change. KDLG’s Stephanie Maltarich explained the app.

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay are two of the partners that support the Skipper Science app. They are also financial supporters of KDLG.

High water in Brooks River prompts partial closure in Katmai so bears can fish

A bear catches a fish at Brooks Falls. August 2019.
Credit Izzy Ross/KDLG

Rabid otter at the Dillingham harbor

An otter in Dillingham tested positive for rabies this week. Construction workers were at the Dillingham harbor near LFS on Monday morning when they called Fish and Game to report an otter “acting aggressively.”

Wildlife Biologist Bryan Reiley responded to the call.

“When I went down there to see it, it was completely covered in porcupine quills. Which is not normal," Reiley said. "It’s now jumped from fox, to at least otters and given the amount of porcupine quills it had on it, maybe even porcupine.”

It’s uncommon for otters and porcupines to interact. Both species tend to stick closer to water and land respectively. Fish and Game also found a baby otter near a pond by the Nushagak Power Plant. They suspect it may belong to the rabid otter, which was a female. Reiley returned the baby to the water.

“I don’t know the prevalence; like how rabies transmits to the young," he said. "If they were still feeding on the mother’s milk, maybe it was transmitted to them. More than likely, I think they’re not.”

Three cases of rabies have been reported in Dillingham foxes this spring. If an otter acts  aggressively or is far away from the water, it could have rabies.

If you are bitten by any animal, get medical help immediately.

Messages to the fleet

To Jessie Peraleg, on the Sandie Marie: please call me at my mom’s, 842-4000 ASAP

To Doug Walling:

Wishing my favorite guy in a uniform, DW, is having the time of his life and staying safe!! Missing you… Your Chicago Fisher Girl- J

To Joe EH on the Kvichak from Mom and Dad:

Hi Son,

We hope everything is going well up there.  It sounds like you're keeping very busy, according to the fishing report.  It was great to see the video of the crew and to hear your laugh.  We're hanging out in the pool a lot and can't wait for you and Ang and the boys to come for a visit.  Love you!  --Mom and Dad

To the Captain of the Linda K:

Hope you and the crew are doing well.

Missing you like crazy can't wait to hear from you. But most of all I can't wait to see you.

All my love - Miss Denver

To all the crews in Pilot Point working off the beach: go get ‘em. From Gano and Skukum

To Ekuk Beach: Good fishing, from Nicole, Kara, Ryan, Cindy and Tommy Nebraska.

Thank you to Tommy for your donation!

Playing us out tonight, Tommy requested “Wish you were here” by Pink Floyd. Good night, good fishing, and see you back here tomorrow. 

The numbers

The total run bay-wide is 3 million fish over the pre-season forecast-- the run reached 54.3 million yesterday. 

Daily harvest across the bay hit 2.4 million fish. The Naknek-Kvichak led the way as a top contributor, accounting for 30% of the daily catch. Total harvest bay-wide is 33.5 million fish.

Escapement in the bay was 633,000 [633,304] fish, to bring the season total to 20.2 million fish. Naknek-Kvichak’s run was nearly half of yesterday’s total escapement and takes the lead as top district for escapement across the bay.

Nushagak

Daily harvest in the Nushagak was down just a wee bit, as fishermen hauled in 583,000 fish. The average drift delivery was 962 sockeye. Total harvest for the district so far is 16.4 million and remains the leader in the bay.

For the catch by gear; about 82% of the total harvest went to Nushagak drift nets and 12% to set nets. Igushik set nets pulled in 3% with the other 4% labeled as unspecified.

Escapement in the Nush was similar to Monday’s daily, at 133,666 fish. The district’s total escapement so far is 8.9 million fish, now the second largest run in the Bay.

The total run is now 25.4 million.

Let’s look at how it all went down by river:

Nushagak River

Sockeye escapement in the Nushagak River came in under 100,000 fish for the third day in a row, at 30,910 fish. The total sockeye escapement up the Nushagak is 4.4 million fish.

Our consistent chums came in at 3,437 fish yesterday, to push the chum sum to 118,143 fish.

Chinook were way down from Monday’s daily count, coming in at 63 fish. The Nushagak’s total Chinook escapement is at 50,641 fish.

Wood River

Wood River’s escapement was under 100,000 fish for the second day in a row at 70,680 fish. That puts the total escapement at 3.8 million fish. As of this morning, 26,832 fish have passed through the tower.

Igushik River 

Escapement in the Igushik continued a three-day decline as 32,076 fish passed through the tower. That puts the cumulative run at 683,466. As of this morning, 4,152 fish have swam on through.

Togiak

Togiak’s fleet caught 24,000 fish yesterday, for a total harvest of 176,112. The average drift delivery contained 180 sockeye.

Meanwhile, daily escapement in Togiak continued to go up, as 6,942 to push the total escapement there to 49,800 fish. As of 6:00 a.m. today, 1,524 fish had passed the tower.

Togiak’s total run is now over a quarter-million fish.

Naknek-Kvichak 

Naknek-Kvichak, take a bow. Daily harvest in the district was the largest in the bay as fishers hauled 745,000 salmon. Drifters delivered an average of 978 sockeye per haul. The total harvest is at 6.8 million fish. Naknek-Kvichak drift nets hauled in 73% of the cumulative catch, with 14% to Naknek set nets and 12% to Kvichak set nets.

Daily escapement there was also the largest in the bay, as 301,296 fish swam to their spawning grounds. Total escapement is 9.1 million, which edges out the Nushagak to lead the bay.

Naknek River

Naknek’s daily escapement hit 80,328 fish yesterday, pushing the total to 2.4 million fish.

Kvichak River

In the Kvichak River, 163,428 fish swam past the counting tower yesterday. Fun fish fact -- that surpassed the Nushagak District’s daily escapement by about 30,000 fish. Cumulative escapement for the Kvichak is 4.1 million fish.

Alagnak River

Alagnak River escapement came in at 57,540 fish yesterday, for a total of 2.5 million spawners up the Alagnak.

Egegik

Daily harvest in Egegik was up a bit, at 409,000 fish, with an average of 939 sockeye per drift delivery. Total harvest so far is at 6.7 million fish -- the third-largest in the bay, just behind Naknek-Kvichak.

So what kind of gear pulled all this fish? Well, 84% of the total catch went to drift nets and 16% was pulled in by set nets.

Daily escapement up the Egegik River was 33,114 fish, down a bit from Monday. That brings the season total escapement to 1.6 million.

Egegik’s total run is at 8.4 million

Ugashik 

Daily catch in the Ugashik continues to shine as fishers hauled 650,000 fish The average drift delivery in Ugashik was a gargantuan 2,105 sockeye yesterday.

The season’s total harvest is over 3.1 million.

Of that total catch, drift nets brought in 87% of those salmon smackers, while 12% went to set nets.

If you fall into either of those categories out there, we’d love to talk to you about these amazing harvest numbers! Call us at 907-842-2200.

As for the run, daily escapement hit 158,286], which is nearly 40% of the season’s total escapement of 420,108 fish.

Ugashik’s total run is at 3.9 million.

Chignik Weir 

About 11,750 sockeye passed through the Chignik Weir yesterday, total escapement is 276,946 fish. Only 32 Chinook were counted to push that total to 317. There was no fish passage this morning at 9:00 a.m.

Area M

At Area M, sockeye harvest was 84,553 fish to put the season total at 5.1 million. Chum harvest came in at 133 fish. The chum sum is up to 909,505. Only 13 Chinook were harvested yesterday to put that total at 5,028 fish. Eight Coho were harvested out in Area M, the season total is 9,431 fish. As for pinks, 15 fish were harvested to put the season total at 3.4 million pinks so far. 

Port Moller Test Fishery

Fishing continues to wind down for the test fishery crew as all recorded indices came in below 100.

Station 6 caught 5 fish in the 4 1/2 inch mesh and 4 in the 5 1/8. The catch index is 25.

Station 8 caught 22 in the 4 1/2 inch mesh and 13 in the 5 1/8. The catch index is 81.

Station 9 caught 8 in the 4 1/2 inch mesh and 0 in the 5 1/8. The catch index is 21.

Station 10 caught 1 in the 4 1/2 inch mesh and 5 in the 5 1/8. The catch index is 16.

Station 12 caught 3 in the 4 1/2 inch mesh and 4 in the 5 1/8. The catch index is 19.

Station 14 caught 0 in the 4 1/2 inch mesh and 3 in the 5 1/8. The catch index is 8.

Boat Registration July 14, 2021 to July 16, 2021

There are currently 220 vessels in Egegik, 72 of which are D-Boats. That increases to 222 boats and 72 D-boats in a couple days.

In the Naknek-Kvichak there are 551 vessels in the water with 144 D-Boats. That will jump to 557 vessels, 145 of those are D-Boats.

Vessels continue to shift out of Nushagak waters, there are currently 277 vessels and 80 D-boats. That decreases to 269 vessels and 75 D-Boats Friday.

In Ugashik, there are 218 vessels and 90 D-Boats. That takes the largest jump of any district to 257  vessels and 106 D-boats. (Probably that juicy, tantalizing harvest.)

Togiak will continue to sport 35 boats over the next couple days.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that while there were record harvest numbers for North Pacific salmon in 2018 and 2019, the 2020 catches were the lowest in four decades.


Contact the fish team at fish@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.