Naknek-Kvichak fishermen eagerly await the 16 million sockeye run to show

Jun 30, 2017

With just 100,000 sockeye counted as harvest, and 65,000 counted as escapement, skippers and crew play the waiting game in Bristol Bay's largest fishing district.

At the dock on one processor in the Naknek River, these crew work on nets while they and the east side fleet wait eagerly for some action.
Credit Caitlin Tan / KDLG

The Naknek-Kvichak district had a couple openers earlier this week with not a lot of promise. While fish are coming in at record breaking numbers in the Nushigak, skippers in the Naknek-Kvichak are playing the game of ‘hurry up and wait.’

Audio Transcript: Boats are anchored and lined up at the Naknek Silver Bay Seafoods dock Thursday afternoon. Skippers and crew are working on last minute repairs…some are playing cards, reading books, napping. The overall sentiment is disappointment from the last two openers.

“So it was real slow. Actually really slow. Discouragingly slow.” “Do you have high hopes for next coming days?” “Yeah, I believe the fish are coming, just a matter of when they get here.”

That’s Shawn Carlson, the captain of the Donavon. They went out for the Naknek-Kvichak Wednesday opener. He says the seals were catching more fish than anyone else.

John Vookus, captain of the Mad Max, says he’s worried the fish won’t come.

“My beliefs are 37 years of commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay that we destroyed the early run and it’s going to take many generations and maybe never for this early run or beginning of this run like it used to be. This is proof now for last four years that fish are late and mostly on the west side.”

He’s been fishing the Naknek-Kvichak district since 1992. He says if the fish don’t come in he might have to leave the business altogether.

“It’s going to force me to probably quit fishing. I have four to six man crew I can’t afford the expenses, insurance, fuel bill, food. No, I’m not fishing anywhere else but here so if this is going to go I’m going to get out of the business.”

But, this is not everyone’s sentiment. Jared Russell and Christian Herzberger, crew on the 401 K, say the fish are still coming.

“Oh I think they’ll come. Last two years everyone’s been preparing for doomsday for the fish not showing up.” “My greenhorn year we went up and down the river and everyone was just all doom and gloom and they finally came. It’s just a matter of trying to get out of here by mid-August.”

During the last couple openers in the Naknek-Kvichak, the 401K brought in just over 1,000 pounds. As numbers swell in the Nushagak, Herzberger says he’s regretful they didn’t transfer.

In the meantime, the 401 K crew are playing the waiting game.

“Lots of card games, thumb twiddling, movie watching, napping.” “Tell me about the little snack you guys got.” “Oh down at the D and D? The skipper is an ice cream fiend. It’s nice having a skipper who likes ice cream so much.”

Reach Caitlin Tan by email, or at, or by calling KDLG at 907-842-5281.