Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 26, 2021

Jul 26, 2021

Tonight, we take a look at the ecology of the fish and waters surrounding Bristol Bay. The 2021 sockeye run is the largest on record; we dive into why this year was so bountiful in Bristol Bay.

Credit Stephanie Maltarich / KDLG

 

Bristol Bay's sockeye run a stark contrast to others in the state

Bristol Bay’s sockeye run is now over 64 million fish. Other runs in the state are at record lows. Last week, KDLG’s Izzy Ross spoke with Greg Buck, a research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Bristol Bay commercial fisheries division.

Bristol Bay's run is huge, but its sockeye are small 

The average Bristol Bay sockeye this year is smaller. That’s part of a trend over the past four decades, as increasingly smaller fish have returned to the bay amid larger salmon runs and warming oceans. As KDLG’s Brian Venua reports, everyone from processor executives to biologists now have to consider what smaller fish mean for Bristol Bay.

Staff at the Wood River tower measure a sockeye. June 28, 2021.
Credit Stephanie Maltarich/KDLG

Subsistence perspective on Nushagak’s king salmon 

The Nushagak king run hasn’t met its minimum escapement goal yet this year. The Nushagak sonar crew counted 54,300 kings -- 700 fish less than the 55,000 minimum.

It would be the third year that the Nushagak Chinook run has not met escapement -- part of a trend of declining king runs around the state. 

KDLG’s Izzy Ross caught up with Deedee Bennis, a Dillingham resident who has practiced subsistence for her whole life and shares her perspective on this year’s king return.

Wet and rainy summer is a glimpse of normality for Bristol Bay

It’s been a wet and rainy summer. But that’s not out of the norm for Bristol Bay. Alaska Climate Specialist Rick Thoman joins us for a final weather report. 

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

Observations of Chignik’s changing ecology

The salmon runs to the Chignik River have been low for the fourt year in a row. There is no clear understanding of what environmental factors have contributed to the extremely low salmon runs over the past four years. But people there have noticed changes to the local ecosystem.

Alvin Pedersen is a retired fisherman who has lived in Chignik Lagoon his whole life. He conducted research with the University of Washington in Black and Chignik lakes, trapping sockeye through the ice. 

“We didn’t find a whole lot of sockeye, so the oxygen levels were low, and they thought a lot of the fish had moved on -- were not overwintering up there,” he said.

Pedersen also ran a charter boat for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in Chignik Lagoon and Mud Bay in the early 2010s to study eelgrass. 

“I think the result of that is, a lot of the habitat is degrading. Erosion and sediment buildup. The waters are getting shallower up in the head of the bay, with the eelgrass and the volcanic movement,” he said.

This year, Pedersen has noticed that smaller salmon runs have affected other wildlife there.

“My personal feeling is, there’s hardly enough fish to feed the bears now," he said. "We have a lot of bear, and there’s bears roaming around the village and down the shoreline that should be up in the creeks now, eating fish. And they’re waiting to eat berries. So their diets are changing, too, and a lot of them are skinny.”

So far, just over 400,000 sockeye have returned to the Chignik River. About 900 pinks have returned, and the Chinook run is at 900 fish. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife plan to launch a three-year research project along with the Chignik Intertribal Coalition to find out why the Chignik River’s Chinook run has declined.  

 

A sow and her cubs on the shore of Chignik Lagoon. July 16, 2021.
Credit Izzy Ross/KDLG

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