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Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 6, 2022

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Carl Larson
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The Nushagak District in July 2022.

Another day, another million-fish catch in the Nushagak. Harvest in that district is already the fourth-largest on record. After a lull, escapement up rivers on the West Side jumped on Tuesday. Egegik fleets brought in almost a million fish as well.

Huge harvests in the Nushagak

The Nushagak District has had six days with harvests at over one million sockeye so far this year. Five of those days were within the last week.

West Side Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Tim Sands said huge harvest days are becoming a regular occurrence.

“Harvesting a million fish in this district in a day, as far as I know, a million sockeye salmon didn’t happen until 2017," he said. "We had several days last year and several days in 2018, I think those were the big years that we did it.”

According to Sands, single-day harvests in the Nushagak didn’t surpass 1 million sockeye until July 3, 2017, when the fleet hauled in 1.3 million fish.

Since then, the district’s fleets have had twenty more million-fish days: seven times in 2018, seven more in 2021, and six days so far this season. Sands said there’s no telling how much longer this huge push of fish will last.

“It sure seems to me like there’s lots of fish coming through and the run is at a high plateau for the moment. How long it lasts, we’ll see,” he said. 

The record for single-day harvest was 2.46 million on June 30, 2022.

Discrepancies between Port Moller Test Fishery numbers and runs in the Nushagak

The Nushagak District’s harvests have been huge. And that’s been a puzzle for biologists and managers. The Port Moller Test Fishery calculates catch indices for Bristol Bay. The catch index lets fishermen and biologists know how many fish they should expect before it gets here, however it seems last week’s numbers were misleading.

KDLG's Brian Venua reports on the discrepancy between Port Moller data and recent returns in the commercial district.

How many fish do processors plan to process?

Seafood companies say they intend to purchase 52 million Bristol Bay sockeye this season. That’s according to Fish and Game’s processor survey, which the state conducted this spring. It surveyed Bristol Bay’s 15 main salmon processors, and those companies estimated a daily processing capacity of roughly 3 million fish.

The state predicted that a record-breaking 60 million Bristol Bay sockeye could be available to harvest this season. That leaves a gap of roughly 8 million salmon between the available harvest and what processors expect to buy.

That foregone harvest could amount to over $100 million, according to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which has urged processors to boost their capacity across the bay this season.

Travis Roenfanz is the plant manager of Peter Pan Seafoods’ Dillingham facility, one of the biggest industry processors. During an interview in mid-June, he said the plant’s processing capacity is over a million pounds per day.

“I figure about 50,000 pounds an hour, our capacity here locally is a little over 1.1 million pounds," he said.

Roenfanz said that’s with roughly 570 workers in the Dillingham plant, processing fish 24 hours a day, seven days a week..

Peter Pan also plans to boost processing capacity by transporting fish to their other facilities in Port Moller and King Cove.

“A big part of our program this year will be exporting fish out to those other facilities to maximize them as well," he said.

In recent years, some processors have had to halt fishing to keep up with the huge harvests, and some fishermen had to sit on the beach while millions of fish swam by. Roenfanz says Peter Pan Seafoods doesn’t plan for that to happen this season.

"Our goal this year is to keep the nets in the water all the time," he said. "We've got such a big run coming, we think. And it's all about supporting the fleet and keeping those guys fishing as long as the department (of Fish and Game) will let them fish.”

Entry level pay for Peter Pan’s seafood processing workers this year is $15.85 per hour, with overtime hours and pay expected. Roenfanz says they’ve also boosted recruiting efforts over the last year, and are fully staffed. He says if needed, they’ll continue hiring for the facility throughout the season.

“We've added additional HR folks who are staffing, and really gone all out on recruiting this year," he said. "I'm very happy to report that we will be fully staffed, and we'll have folks continue to come in as we need them. So I think we're very fortunate in that this year.”

Other Bristol Bay processing companies, including OBI Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods, Leader Creek and Ekuk fisheries did not respond to requests for comment about processing capacity this season.

This year’s projected 60 million sockeye harvest is the largest ever, as is the companies’ projected purchase amount of 52 million fish.

According to Fish and Game’s processor survey, that purchase would be an increase of 25 percent from the last survey in 2019. That would be 10 million fish. They say five processors account for 96 percent of this increase.

In the meantime, seafood processing workers are working over-time to process this historic harvest — 30 million to date — and we hope to hear from them later on in the season on your Bristol Bay Fisheries report.

The numbers

Another 4 million salmon returned to Bristol Bay on Tuesday. It was yet another big day for harvests in districts across the fishery: Fleets hauled in 3.2 million of those fish, and 714,178 escaped past counting crews up rivers, eager to reach their spawning grounds. Total harvest is now at 30 million sockeye, and escapement has reached 8.2 million. The bay’s total run so far is at 38.5 million.

Nushagak District 

1.6 million fish returned to the Nushagak District on Tuesday, bringing the total run there to 19.4 million sockeye.

The fleet hauled in the largest daily harvest, at 1.3 million fish. It’s the sixth time this season that Nushagak fishermen have caught over a million fish in a day. The average drift delivery contained 1,081 sockeye.

Escapement up the bay’s three major rivers was at 295,024, for a total of 5.3 million spawners. All three of the district’s monitored rivers have met or exceeded their escapement goals.

Nushagak River

After a lull lasting a few days, the daily sockeye run up the Nushagak jumped. The Nushagak River sonar crew tallied 109,024 fish, for a total escapement of almost 2.8 million. That is more than three times it’s upper-end escapement goal of 900,000 fish.

The daily Chinook run was 756, for a cumulative count of 41,972. The chum run, however, was about on par with the past couple days: 1,136 chum swam past the sonar, for a total of 77,350 chum.

Wood River

After a few quiet days, the Wood River saw a big pulse on Tuesday. The tower counted 176,364 salmon swimming by, and another 63,804 this morning for a total of 2.5 million sockeye. That run has also far exceeded its upper-end goal of 1.8 million sockeye.

Igushik River

The Igushik River has met its lower-end escapement goal. It saw 9,636 fish on Monday with another 6,396 this morning. The total run up the Igushik is 150,012.

Togiak

Togiak’s tower crew started counting on Tuesday; 1,824 fish swam past the tower, and another 762 salmon joined them this morning, for a total count of 2,586. Togiak’s escapement goal range is between 120,000 - 270,000 fish.

Togiak fishermen hauled in the biggest harvest so far: 16,500 fish. Average drift deliveries on Tuesday held 146 sockeye. The total harvest is now at 44,111.

Togiak’s total run is at 45,935.

On to the east side….

Naknek-Kvichak District

In the Naknek-Kvichak District, 947,896 fish returned on Tuesday. Fishermen hauled in 670,000 fish, with average drift deliveries of 878 sockeye. The district’s total harvest is at 4.8 million fish.

277,896 fish escaped past the counting tower, bringing the district-wide spawner count to 1.7 million. Across the district, the total run is at 6.7 million.

And to break it down by river,

Naknek River

The Naknek saw the largest daily escapement in the district, and it met its minimum escapement goal of at least 800,000 fish: On Tuesday, 144,858 salmon swam past the counting tower. The total escapement there is at 869,982.

Kvichak River

The Kvichak River counting crew tallied 80,790 salmon on Tuesday, for a total escapement of 672,150. Another 200,000 fish are estimated to be making their way upriver.

The Kvichak’s escapement is a little over a quarter of the way to its minimum goal of 2 million sockeye.

Alagnak River

Alagnak is just below its minimum escapement goal of 210,000 fish. 52,248 sockeye escaped up the Alagnak on Tuesday, bringing the total count to 203,034.

Egegik 

Egegik’s fleet hauled in a huge harvest on Tuesday: 949,000 fish were caught, with drift deliveries averaging 1,563. That brings the total harvest to almost 8.9 million.

Another 92,790 evaded those nets and swam upriver to spawn, bringing the total escapement to 924,918. That river has met its lower-end goal of 800,000 fish. Another 80,000 fish are estimated to be in the Egegik River.

The total run there is at 9.8 million.

Ugashik

Ugashik’s fishermen brought in 247,000 sockeye on Tuesday, with an average drift delivery of 2,038. The total harvest has passed 2 million; it sits at 2.1 million salmon.

Escapement up the Ugashik was 46,644, for a season total of 164,460. Another 80,000 fish are estimated to be swimming up the Ugashik.

The district’s total run is at 2.3 million

Chignik Weir 

Correction July 8, 2022:
We misstated the early run sockeye counts past the Chignik Weir.

At the Chignik Weir, 17,886 early run sockeye swam through on Tuesday, not 23,946 as originally reported. The early run was at 299,701 on Tuesday, not 332,828.

6,060 late run fish passed, bringing that run to 33,127. That’s the highest the late run has been at this point in the season in the past nine years.

And another 18 Chinook made it upriver. The Chinook run up the Chignik River is at just 79.

Here is some context

Area M

In Area M, daily sockeye harvest was 200,111 for a total of 5.5 million. Another 27 Chinook were caught for a cumulative of 3,748. To date, South Peninsula fleets have caught 2,911 kings, 3.9 million sockeye, 164 coho, 1.1 million pinks and 531,350 chum.

The North Peninsula Chinook harvest is at 837, and sockeye catches are 1.5 million.

Port Moller Test Fishery

Stations 8, 10, 12, and 14 caught 0 fish. 

Station 4 caught 2 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 0 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 4.

Station 6 caught 3 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 6 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 19.

Station 13 caught 1 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 0 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 2.

Station 16 caught 5 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 2 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 18.

Station 17 caught 15 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 1 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 40.

Station 18 caught 34 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 12 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 102.

Station 20 caught 14 fish in the 4 ½ inch mesh and 10 fish in the 5 ⅛. That catch index is 50.

The crew expects to send out the next stock composition results tomorrow morning.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
Brian Venua grew up in Dillingham and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. He got his start in journalism at KDLG in 2020, interviewing and writing for the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report and signed on as a full-time host and reporter later that year.
Corinne Smith is a reporter and producer who grew up in Oakland, California and on her family’s horse ranch in rural San Rafael, CA, a contrast that nurtured a deep appreciation for the complexities of identity and belonging, and connection to place, land and the natural world. She began her reporting career at KPFA in Berkeley, first as a general assignment reporter and then as lead producer of UpFront, a daily morning news and public affairs show. In 2020, she served as the summer reporter for KFSK in Petersburg where she first got hooked on Alaska stories. For the last year, she's been a general assignment reporter for KHNS based in Haines, and thrilled to experience a new part of Alaska and cover the Bristol Bay fishing season this summer with KDLG!