In the penultimate episode of the season, we take a look at the beating heart of our show -- commercial fishing. We parse through updates on federal and state relief funding for fishermen, perspectives on the Naknek-Kvichak's huge year, and a final look at the market.
The Naknek-Kvichak had a big year - Management biologist Travis Elison puts it in context
The Naknek-Kvichak district broke multiple records this year--records that had been around for almost 30 years. Despite all the bustle of the pre-season pandemic preparations, Naknek-Kvichak’s biologist, Travis Elison, says as far as management goes, 2020 has been one of the easiest seasons he can remember.
The Nushagak District's low king runs shaped management -- here's how:
On the west side of the bay, the chinook runs have been low. KDLG’s Tyler Thompson asked Management biologist Tim Sands about the low returns on king salmon in the Nushagak and across the bay, and how it influenced commercial openers this season.
The AK CARES Grant Program will soon open to Alaska fishermen
Now, some good news for Alaska fishermen. The Alaska CARES Grant Program will soon be expanded to include commercial fishermen. Glenn Hoskinson is the public information officer for the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. She says the funds are distributed on a first come, first serve basis. But fishermen shouldn’t be worried about missing out -- as of Tuesday, more than $150 million were still available.
“Twenty percent of the funds has been set aside to rural Alaskan businesses, because we recognize that first come, first serve could disadvantage communities that have differing levels of connectivity to the internet,” she says.
The grant amounts range from $5,000 to $100,000 per business. To be eligible, fishermen need to hold a limited entry or interim use permit. They also need to hold an embossed gear card and have actively participated in the fishing season for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. They must also be primarily engaged in Alaskan fisheries.
The program’s other requirements include that the business must have 50 or fewer employees, and they can’t have received more than $5,000 in PPP or EIDL funding.
Additional requirements will be announced next week and posted on the AK CARES Grant website.
“We don’t just hand out a flat amount," Hoskinson explains. "We actually look at what funds they need in order to keep their business afloat during this tough time, and that way we can make sure to assist as many businesses as possible.”
The state will be updating the CARES website with the eligibility criteria and expenses that are eligible for funding for commercial fishermen. The state will set a date on which fishermen will be able to apply next week as well.
The program’s application period opened to other, non-fishing, small businesses on June 1. Applications are available on Credit Union 1’s website.
On the scale: sockeye weight by district
The fish returning to Bristol Bay have been smaller this year -- part of a trend over the past couple decades. The reasons range from more competition when the run is larger to increased numbers of hatchery pink salmon from southeast Alaska and Russia.
The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association compiled data from ADF&G on the average weight of salmon this year by district.
According to ADF&G’s report, the total average weight across the five rivers is 5 pounds, which is slightly down from 2019’s 5.2 pounds. The total estimated weight is almost 195 million pounds, which is also lower than last year’s total of 225 million.
Breaking it down by district:
The Ugashik District harvested 2.5 million sockeye this year, with an average weight of 5.07 pounds per fish. The total weight for sockeye in Ugashik this year is 12.6 million pounds.
Last year’s average weight was higher, at 5.42. Harvest was 1 million sockeye.
In the Egegik District, the average weight came in at 5.14 pounds, slightly more than last year’s 4.9 pounds. Despite a heftier average, Egegik's total sockeye harvest is 12.9 million fish, a bit lower than 2019’s 14.8 million sockeye.
The total poundage for Egegik's 2020 sockeye harvest is 66.7 million pounds.
In the Naknek-Kvichak, the average weight was just a bit lower than last year’s 5.31 pounds at 5.21 pounds of sockeye. The total harvest for sockeye is 14 million, which is up from last year’s total of 11.3 million.
The total weight for sockeye in Naknek-Kvichak this year is 73.1 million pounds.
The Nushagak District saw the most change in total average weight at 4.64 pounds of sockeye, which is down from 2019’s 5.46. Harvest for sockeye this season came in at 8.9 million fish. Last year’s total harvest was 14.7 million.
The total weight for sockeye in Nugashak this year is 41.3 million pounds.
In the Togiak District, average weight for sockeye is 5.87 pounds, down from last year’s 6.11 pounds. Harvest for sockeye was confidential for the last week of numbers from Fish and Game. As of the last public report, Togiak's harvest was at 161,000. Last year’s total was 1 million. So far, the total weight for sockeye in Togiak this year is 947 thousand pounds.
Togiak is also at the midway point of that district’s season, so these numbers are subject to change.
In the final Fish Market segment of the season, economist Garrett Everidge of the McDowell Group puts the $0.70 base price into consideration, and breaks down the ASMI salmon harvest summary.
We’re going to take a step back for a moment this evening to hear from a fisherman in the Nushagak. We caught up with Dennis Wilson a couple days after they’d pulled their nets out of the water. He's a dual permit holder on the F/V Tara, and he says they caught almost a fifth of their total harvest in one day.
Wilson says some of the days were tough, but it was worth it.
BBRSDA winds down the season
When the season started to wind down a couple weeks ago, we spoke with BBRSDA Executive Director Andy Wink when the season started to wind down a couple weeks ago. BBRSDA is a sponsor of the Fish Report. Wink says that in recent years, the association has helped increase the fishery’s value through marketing and support for quality improvement. He says it has also helped offset the effects of state budget cuts to fisheries -- that was more apparant than ever this season.
Wink says ahead of the season, BBRSDA had to grapple with the complications of operating during a pandemic.
Bristol Bay has seen positive cases of COVID-19 this summer. But Wink says he’s glad there has been no community spread, and no increase in hospitalizations due to the virus.