Bristol Bay's sockeye run of 63.2 million is the largest on record

Jul 21, 2021

 

The 2021 run broke 2018's record of 62.9 million sockeye, and it's the fourth time since 1952 that the run surpassed 60 million salmon. 

A fisherman on the F/V Cutting Edge. June 30, 2021.
Credit Hope McKenney

 

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 in Bristol Bay 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.

 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact the author at stephanie@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.