Bristol Bay’s 2021 run is the largest on record, at 63.2 million fish. So far, 2021’s total has outplaced the 2018 record by about 300,000 fish. In all, 24.55 million salmon have escaped in rivers across the bay -- the third-largest escapement since Fish and Game started counting in 1952.
Bristol Bay's sockeye run of 63.2 million is the largest on record
Bristol Bay’s 2021 sockeye run is the largest on record; 63.2 million fish have returned to the bay, breaking the 2018 record of 62.9 million.
This is the fourth time since 1952 that the bay’s run has surpassed 60 million sockeye.
Alannah Hurley is a commercial fisherman from Dillingham, and the executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. She said it’s an exciting time to be here.
“Breaking these records since the commercial fishery has begun is just a real testament to the stewardship for thousands of years that our people have taken very seriously that responsibility,” she said.
Tim Sands, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist for the West Side of the fishery, said the new record shows Bristol Bay's sockeye management is working.
“I think it's a shining beacon of sustainable management," he said. "We’ve been prosecuting the commercial salmon fishery management since 1884 and we are still able to set records on total runs, and I think that speaks to the escapement-based management that we use and it’s great.”
The Nushagak District, on the West Side of the fishery, also set several records this season. Sands said the bay's record is largely attributed to the district.
“We are ahead of the forecast in large part because the Nushagak District produced 12 more million fish than expected, that’s the big difference maker. Ugashik is above as well, but the 12 million sockeye from the Nushagak above the forecast is the big driver here," he said.
Fishermen in the Nushagak broke the district’s record for daily catch two days in a row. They hauled in 1.7 million fish on June 30, and 1.8 million on July 1.
The Nushagak District’s escapement is also the largest on record as 9.7 million fish swam up river this season, surpassing the 2018 count of 9.5 million.
The district’s total sockeye run of 27.2 million fish is the second-largest on record, behind the 2018 record of 33 million.
Other species haven’t been as prolific; the Nushagak River’s Chinook run has yet to meet the minimum escapement of 55,000 kings. It would be the third season in a row where the Chinook run fell below the minimum goal.
Bristol Bay’s enormous sockeye run stands in stark contrast to salmon returns in other areas of the state. The sockeye and Chinook runs to the Chignik River are extremely low for the fourth year in a row. And as the chum and Chinook returns to the Yukon River hit record lows, people there are struggling to get enough fish for subsistence.
Fishermen have observed changes in ocean ecosystems for years. But, there was no one place to record those observations. This summer, a new mobile app will gather observations from commercial fishermen on the water to bridge the gap between what they see, and what scientists need to know.
Bristol Bay’s sockeye run is the largest, but the base price isn’t
Two major processors have set a base price of $1.25 for Bristol Bay sockeye -- Peter Pan, and OBI.
But in other parts of the state, that price is higher. Fish Radio reported that major buyers are paying $1.45-$1.50 per pound for sockeye in Kodiak, and $1.75 at Southeast.
Dan Lesh, a fisheries consultant for the McKinley Research Group, says that according to a northern southeast gillnet fisherman, the base price is now $2 per pound for sockeye there.
KDLG’s Izzy Ross spoke with Lesh, who said that’s in line with the trend of increasing value in sockeye markets over the last month.
Messages to the fleet
Here’s a few encrypted shout out for a Certain fisherman from the EGEGIK fishing district :
It’s been 208 days since you walked into my friends wine bar & changed my life forever.
But Bristol Bay took you away from me and now it’s been 43 long, painful days since I’ve felt your warm embrace.
God willing, it will only be 7 more nights until we are reunited again in our sweet home in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
That’s 158 hours and 5 minutes… but whose counting ?????
Bristol Bay broke its record for the largest run ever to return to the bay with a cumulative total of 63.22 million fish and rising. So far, 2021’s total has outplaced the 2018 record by about 300,000 fish. It surpassed the 1980 run by about 700,000.
The Naknek-Kvichak district took in over half the bay-wide harvest and broke the Ugashik fleet’s harvest lead streak with a whopping 178,000 fish harvest this late in the season. Yesterday’s baywide harvest total was 350,000 fish with a season total of about 38.67 million.
Escapement around the bay was 98,806 fish. In all, 24.55 million salmon have escaped in rivers across the bay -- the third-largest escapement since Fish and Game started counting in 1952.
The Nushagak District’s harvest continues to drop as more fishermen call it a season. 44,000 fish were caught yesterday, for a cumulative total of 17.57 million. That’s the district’s second-largest harvest on record, after 2018.
Drift deliveries were about the same as the day before with an average of 222 sockeye.
District-wide escapement was just 26,825, less than half of the day before. The total escapement sits at 9.76 million fish, pushing that record escapement that much further.
Escapement in the Nushagak River continues to decline. 6,000 sockeye passed the sonar yesterday -- the lowest count since June 22. A total of 4.6 million sockeye have escaped up the Nushagak.
Chinook escapement is the lowest since Fish and Game started counting in mid-June. Just 17 Chinook swam up the river yesterday, for a season total of 53,931-- about 1,000 fish below the minimum escapement goal.
Yesterday’s chum run actually saw a little late-season bump, as 963 fish swam up river. The chum total is at 124,418.
Wood River’s escapement is rapidly slowing -- 12,630 fish swam past the tower yesterday, and another 1,134 fish passed as of 6 a.m. this morning. The Wood’s total escapement is at 4.2 million.
The Igushik’s run has slowed as well; 8,196 fish swam up river yesterday, and another 2,274 escaped as of 6 a.m. this morning. The Igushik’s escapement is at 822,768.
Yesterday the fleet at Togiak saw 20,000 get caught in their nets, bringing the season total so far to 320,794.
Togiak’s escapement saw a steep drop yesterday, as the tower counted 8,094 fish, and another 794 this morning. Cumulative escapement there is at 121,062.
The Naknek-Kvichak District saw the largest harvest by far yesterday, 178,000 salmon were caught by fisher folk. The season’s cumulative harvest is now 8.44 million.
The average number of fish per drift delivery more than tripled previous day’s low hauls; the average drift delivery brought in 584 salmon.
23,981 fish swam passed all the nets out there to make it upriver. The season total is just above 10.71 million salmon between the district’s rivers.
The district’s total run for the year so far is just below 18.62 million fish.
The Naknek River was the district’s winner, pulling in more than half of the day’s escapement with 11,862 fish. Cumulative escapement for the Naknek is 2.72 million fish.
8,442 fish made it up the Kvichak River, bringing the season total to 4.52 million salmon.
The Alagnak saw the fewest fish in the district -- about a third of the previous day’s escapement. Only 3,677 fish made it past the counting tower for a cumulative total of 2.92 million salmon.
The Egegik fleet caught 43,000 fish yesterday. With an average drift delivery of 328 sockeye, the district’s total harvest so far is 7.71 million salmon.
5,556 salmon made their way up the river, past the counting tower and the total escapement for the river is just above 1.8 million fish.
The total run for the district is 9.51 million salmon.
Ugashik fishermen lost their streak of taking home the most salmon every day in the bay. They harvested 65,000 fish yesterday. Ugashik’s cumulative harvest is 4.66 million fish.
The river did have the highest escapement in the bay yesterday, as 34,350 fish swam by the counting tower. The district’s escapement comes to 2.69 million fish this season.
Ugashik’s total run to date is 7.36 million salmon.
Chignik Weir Counts
At the Chignik River, 6,859 sockeye passed the weir yesterday, and 24 Chinook swam through.
As of 9 a.m. this morning, 2,790 sockeye passed through, and 6 Chinook also passed through.
A total of 342,283 sockeye have escaped up the Chignik River so far this season.
The early run is at 251,312, and the late run is at 90,971.
The Chinook run up the Chignik River is at 565.
Area M saw a drop in harvest once more yesterday.
40,048 sockeye were caught for a total of nearly 5.57 million of that species.
187 pinks were caught, the total holds at just below 3.56 million fish.
102 chums were caught for a total harvest of 949,766 fish.
12 coho were caught, that species total is 31,830.
3 Chinook were caught, a total harvest of 7,981 harvest.
Contact the fish team at email@example.com or 907-842-2200.