Bristol Bay’s run is tantalizingly close to breaking the record for the largest run ever to return to the bay. The run of 62.7 million fish is currently the second-largest run ever, less than 200,000 behind the largest run of 2018.
A season of rough fishing in the Naknek-Kvichak
The run is tapering off in the Naknek-Kvichak District. Travis Elison, the district’s Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s East Area Management Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said fishing has been good, but the weather has been rough.
“It’s been a real stormy, windy year, with Southeast winds have been blowing the fish farther away from the set netters, and it sounds like the fish are running deep it sounded like, from talking to a lot of the fishermen. All of it just makes it harder for them to catch," he said.
A total of 18.3 million fish have returned to the Naknek-Kvichak district so far this season, and more than 8 million of that was harvested.
Elison says that catch is higher than the district’s long-term average, though it is a smaller harvest than more recent years from 2015 to 2020.
The run typically dies off by July 18. Elison noted that this season’s run has dropped off much more rapidly than in previous years, with both catches and escapement cut in half daily.
Bristol Bay’s total run has reached 62.7 million fish. The record, set in 2018, was a little over 62.9 million.
“It’s a little uncertain whether or not we’ll break that record but, I think we are close enough at this point to get there, even if it just comes with the late season escapement," he said.
The run has returned at progressively later dates since 2015. Elison said that though it is typical for fishermen to start pulling their boats out of the water around this time, there still might be one last push or two of good fishing.
A look at the upward trend of Bristol Bay's wholesale value
The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association released an update last week on the commercial value of the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery.
It has tracked data on those figures since 2005. The price has fluctuated over time -- there was a big dip in price per pound and exvessel price in 2015. But overall, those metrics -- the final average price per pound, the final ex-vessel value, and the first wholesale value -- have increased.
KDLG received a question from a fisherman: How much of the wholesale value of Bristol Bay sockeye goes to the fisherman?
BBRSDA Executive Director Andy Wink said in an email that on average, fishermen have gotten 51% of first wholesale value over the last five years. The association’s preliminary estimate is that fishermen got 40% from the 2020 season.
Wink broke down those dynamics:
BBRSDA is a financial supporter of the KDLG Fisheries Report, but that does not change how we cover it.
KDLG’s Stephanie Maltarich talked to Wink about why the fishery’s wholesale value has increased since 2006.
What happened when Bristol Bay became a limited entry fishery?
Bristol Bay and other fisheries around the state have operated under a limited entry permit system for almost half a century. In 1972, people in Alaska voted to amend the State Constitution to allow for a restriction on entry to Alaska’s fisheries to conserve the runs, help the economy, and promote aquaculture.
KDLG’s Izzy Ross sat down with Fred Torrisi, who worked as a lawyer in Dillingham just as the system was implemented in the early 1970s. People could get permits if they could prove they had enough experience fishing between 1960 -1972. Torrisi said that at first, the full scope of the change wasn’t well communicated.
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Messages to the fleet
Sending greetings to the strong, amazing women fishing on the Crawdad! We're thinking of you as the numbers rise -- we wish you blue skies and calm seas, along with continued great landings! From family and friends on the coast of Maine. -Esperanza
Hi to Captain Tyson and greenhorn Gabriel on the Free Amine crew! Hope you had a great run! Almost done! We miss you! Love, Mom, Dad, Charlie and Rashmi
Bristol Bay’s run is tantalizingly close to breaking the record for the largest run ever to return to the bay. The run of 62.7 million fish is currently the second-largest run ever, just 200,000 behind the largest run of 2018.
The Nushagak District just broke the record for the largest escapement ever, at 9.7 million fish.
Fishermen caught 271,000 fish yesterday, bringing the total harvest to 38.3 million.
Another 269,470 escaped up rivers around the bay, for a cumulative escapement of 24.4 million.
Over to the Nushagak District, which just broke the record for the largest escapement ever, at 9.7 million fish. 70,200 fish swam to spawning grounds around the district yesterday; the previous record for escapement here was 9.5 million fish, set in 2018.
This is the Nushagak's second-largest run on record.
Harvest continues to dwindle, as more boats are pulled out of the water for the season and set netters pack up camp.
Nushagak fishermen hauled in just 54,000 fish yesterday, with an average drift delivery of 224 sockeye. The district’s total harvest is 17.4 million.
Nushagak drifters have caught around 80% of that cumulative catch, while set netters hauled in 13%. Igushik set netters caught another 3%, and 3.5% of the harvest went to unspecified gear types.
Looking at that enormous escapement by river:
As the season winds down, Chinook escapement up the Nushagak River has stayed steady -- yesterday, 545 fish escaped for a season total so far of just under 53,914.
Sockeye escapement was down by over half to only 7,016 and the cumulative run sits at 4.66 million fish.
The chum run also dwindled down to 130; the chum run sum holds at 123,455.
In the Wood River, yesterday’s count was a best estimate; Fish and Game says it should have better data tomorrow. Approximately 50,000 fish swam by the counting tower yesterday. The Wood River total escapement is at 4.26 million fish.
The Igushik River’s run is slowly closing as well. Only 13,188 fish swam by their counting tower yesterday and about 1,488 more this morning. The season total there is 813,776 fish.
The Togiak fleet harvested 26,000 fish yesterday. The total harvest for the district is 300,783.
The Togiak District holds steady. Yesterday, 9,204 fish swam through with 1,050 more this morning by 6 a.m. The season’s total escapement is 113,226.
The total run for the Togaik District is 412,959 fish.
Taking a look at the Naknek-Kvichak District, harvest numbers are comparable to the Nush -- 51,000 fish were caught. The average drift delivery was 150 sockeye -- the lowest in the bay.
75% of the total catch went to drift netters, 12% to Kvichak set netters, and 13% to Naknek set netters.
The district’s three rivers saw a combined escapement of 42,456 for a total of 10.15 million fish past towers. The total run for the Naknek-Kvichak is 18,417,576 salmon.
The Naknek River saw 14,574 salmon swim past the tower there. The total for the river is 2.71 million.
The Kvichak River saw just a few more fish than the Naknek counters as 14,964 salmon swam through. The Kvichak’s total escapement to date is 4.52 million.
The Alagnak saw the fewest fish in the district yesterday, but not by much. 12,918 fish swam by the tower there for a total of 2.91 million fish.
The Egegik District had a total harvest yesterday of 58,000 fish, bringing the season total to 7.67 million fish caught. Drifter folk brought in an average of 307 sockeye per delivery and took about 84% of harvest. Set netters brought in the other 16%.
13,482 salmon swam by Egegik’s counting tower for a cumulative total of just under 1.8 million fish. The cumulative run for Egegik so far is 9.46 million fish.
Y’all Ugashik fisher folk keep bringing in the most fish this late in the season -- fishers caught 82,000 fish yesterday for a cumulative harvest of 4.6 million.
87% of the fish caught were hauled in by drifters, and set netters caught the remaining 13%.
The number of sockeye per drift delivery is down, however. Yesterday’s average was 314 fish.
134,124 salmon escaped up the Ugashik river for a cumulative total of 2.65 million in escapement. The total run for the district is 7.25 million fish.
At the Chingik Weir, 8,531 sockeye passed the weir yesterday. 66 Chinook also swam up river.
As of 9 a.m. today, 240 sockeye passed the weir. No Chinook swam through.
The season total for sockeye is 332,874. The early run is at 249,465, and the late run is at 83,409.
The Chignik River Chinook run is at 535, a little over halfway to the escapement goal of 1,000.
Area M is getting a boost again a bit late into the season, 80,312 sockeye were caught for a total of 5.51 million this season.
70,4525 pinks were caught for a season total of 3.56 million.
13,927 chum were caught for a total of 947,839.
4,896 coho were caught for a total of 31,295.
Lastly, 793 Chinook were caught, for a season total of 7,962 fish.
Contact the fish team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-842-2200.