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Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 20, 2022

Brian Venua
A fishing vessel moves through stormy weather

Bristol Bay’s total run is at 75.3 million sockeye. The Naknek-Kvichak fleet hauled in the largest catch of the day again, at more than a quarter-million fish. And Area M fisherfolk caught 268,315 salmon for a total harvest of 9.45 million.

Update on the Beaver, a tender that was wrecked near Naknek

The North Pacific Seafoods tender that wrecked near Naknek, The Beaver, is being retired and dismantled. All fuel has been removed and crews are now working to clear the beach of remaining debris.

Fish and Game didn’t report exactly how much fuel leaked into the bay, but a manager said most of the fuel was pumped out of the tender almost immediately.

Cole Graham is a fish ticket clerk for the North Pacific Seafoods plant in Pederson Point, about a half mile from the wreck. He went to see it Tuesday night and says crews have already salvaged most of the vessel.

"It looked like they’re basically just tearing the whole thing apart," Graham said." They removed all the expensive stuff, the equipment from inside, all the radios and whatnot, and radars and took the fish holds off the top deck."

He says all that’s left is to remove the hull and other heavy parts of the vessel.

"It's pretty much gutted at this point. You know, I think all they have really left to do is kind of break down the cranes and a few other little things," he said.

The insurance company for North Pacific Seafoods hired Alaska Marine Response to manage the wreckage. One of the owners, Seawan Gehlbach, says their priority was cleaning up the fuel.

"They've been able to utilize pumps and get the diesel pumped out of the fuel tanks and into an IBC cube, just a containment, and then they can take that and move it up off the beach," Gehlbach said.

Gehlbach says now that all the equipment has been removed, crews are working to dig out what’s left.

"Now they're using excavators and actually taking it apart and taking it and putting it into dump trucks," she said.

She says this project was easier than most others because the captain brought the tender to shore when he noticed that it was taking on water.

"Responding to the Beaver, they can drive there so they can bring heavy equipment. It makes things a little easier, versus some, you know, a vessel that's capsized offshore," she said.

KDLG reached out to the Bristol Bay fleet manager for North Pacific Seafoods but they didn’t respond in time for this broadcast. Their team plans to finish the salvage work in the next few days.

Subsistence in Chignik

Sockeye runs to the Chignik River are stronger than they have been since the run crashed in 2018. Commercial fishing openers have been extended until Monday. We wanted to get a little perspective on how subsistence fishing was going from folks living there. KDLG’s Izzy Ross has more.

Subsistence in Chignik

Jenny Grunert lives in Chignik Lagoon. She says people have seen more sockeye returning this summer than they have in the past four years. And that’s lifted their spirits.

“That's made it a little bit easier to do subsistence," Grunert said. "And of course, we do more than just salmon, we also do subsistence halibut fishing here, we can also clam dig in the colder months, and so that has been nice. But we have gotten more salmon through this year than we have in the previous years. So there has been a few people that have been fortunate enough to be able to go and be able to get some subsistence fish."

A new fish donation program, ‘Fish for Families’, has also donated fish to communities in the Chignik area. Grunert says that’s helped people, too.

"That was really nice to have for people who either maybe they don't have to skip any more to be able to go out fishing, or they're older. We definitely are becoming an older community. And then also, gas prices, of course, have just skyrocketed. So we've also been very fortunate for some people to get their fish that way. So it's been nice to be able to work different paths to be able to get our freezers full," she said.

Each season brings its own challenges. Earlier this summer, a sample of razor clams from Chignik Lagoon tested for toxin levels 8 times higher than the Food and Drug Administration’s safety levels. State health officials warned residents along the Gulf of Alaska to test their subsistence shellfish.

Grunert says some people do send their clams out to get tested.

“Someone will go out and go clam digging, and they'll get it tested and we usually get that test result back in I think it's about 48 hours so someone will go out get the client get a few clams, clean them, and then send them up and get them tested the next day," Grunert said.

If the toxin results are low, other people will go dig clams, too.

“You'll see in about two days people go out and go clam digging on those tides. So most people do kind of talk to each other and see if someone sent fish out, see if they’re safe," she said. "Everyone down here has kind of talked about it and said ‘Oh yeah, we sent the clams out and they were lower than they were last time or something like that.’ Then we let people know.”

Meanwhile, Chignik’s sockeye runs are still lower than historical averages. Still, the commercial fishery has been open over the past two weeks. But Grunert says after several seasons of little to no fishing, it’s hard to find a crew.

“There are a few boats that haven't been able to go out, because no one can find crew," she said. "The labor shortage has also hit the commercial fishing side as well. And then on top of that, you know, because we haven't had very many good years, no one really wants to come down to chick Nick to go fishing because they may not get paid, you know, they may not make any money fishing."

Still, she says commercial fishermen are happy for the chance to get out on the water.

Subsistence shellfish harvesters can send in their samples to the state lab for a $125 fee. The Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research – or SEATOR – in Sitka also offers testing for $75.

Perspective from a drifter in the Naknek-Kvichak

Naknek-Kvichak fleets are finishing out the season strong. Correspondent Mackenzie Mancuso spoke with Ramie Kraun. She lives in Seattle in the off season, and her family is from South Naknek.

Ramie Kraun on this year's season

Weather Wednesday 

Wind, rain and gales. KDLG’s Izzy Ross talks to climate specialist Rick Thoman about what they can expect this season.

Weather Wednesday

The numbers

The bay’s total run is now at 75.3 million sockeye. The harvest is at 57.6 million.

Daily catch across the bay continued to slow down on Tuesday. Fleets hauled in 625,000 fish. The Naknek-Kvichak had the biggest haul. Another 210,809 sockeye escaped up rivers across the bay to spawn. The total spawning population is now at 17.7 million fish.

Nushagak District 

The Nushagak District’s fleets caught 110,000 fish on Tuesday, for a total harvest of 22.6 million.

41,759 fish escaped up the district’s rivers, for a season total of 7.3 million – the district’s fourth-largest escapement on record.

Nushagak River

The Nushagak River sonar crew counted 9,173 sockeye on Tuesday, for a total sockeye escapement of 3.3 million.

The crew counted 2,356 chum, for a season total of 98,135.

Another 53 Chinook swam upriver, for a season total of 43,722 – one of the lowest escapements on record so far. We’ll have more on the Nushagak River Chinook run later in the program.

Wood River

The Wood River tower crew counted 23,322 fish on Tuesday, and another 10,908 this morning. The Wood’s total run is at 3.6 million.

Igushik River

Igushik’s crew counted 9,264 fish swimming upriver to spawn, and another 3,606 this morning. The total run up the Igushik is at 261,702.

Togiak District

The fleet caught 28,000 fish on Tuesday, with an average drift delivery of 301 sockeye. The district’s total harvest is 242,206

Togiak’s escapement was 3,750, and the crew counted another 834 fish this morning. The river’s total escapement is now 43,392.

The total run is at 285,598.

Naknek-Kvichak District

The Naknek-Kvichak District had 405,250 fish come through on Tuesday. The total run there is now 21.1 million sockeye. Harvest there was the highest in the bay at 274,000 fish yesterday, with an average drift delivery of 577 fish. Total harvest there is at 13.8 million fish this season.

The escapement in the Naknek-Kvichak District was 131,250, for a total of 7.3 million fish.

And to break it down by river,

Naknek River

The Naknek River had 25,212 return for a total escapement of 1.9 million there.

Kvichak River

The Kvichak had the biggest escapement in the district with 58,200 fish for a total escapement of 3.96 million.

Alagnak River

And the Alagnak had another 47,838 fish come by the counter there for a cumulative escapement of 1.43 million.

Egegik District

The Egegik District had a push of 165,842 fish for a total of 16.9 million this season. That is the fourth-largest run on record there. Harvest increased there yesterday, with 143,000 fish caught and an average drifter bringing in 1,039 fish per delivery.

Escapement up the Egegik was 22,842, for a cumulative count of 1.75 million spawning friends.

Ugashik District

The Ugashik District had 81,208 fish for a total run of 7 million this year so far. Fisherfolk brought in 70,000 fish for a total season harvest of over 5.7 million fish - now the third largest on record. Average drift deliveries there were 610 fish.

The Ugashik escapement was 11,208 sockeye past the towers for a total of 1.32 million.

Chignik Weir Counts 

14,157 sockeye were counted swimming past the Chignik River Weir on Tuesday, for a total count of 561,818.

3,219 were part of the early run for a total of 412,904. Another 10,938 were part of the late run, which is now at 148,914 fish.

Another 12 Chinook came and joined them for a count of 482 this year.

Area M

Tuesday was a big harvest day for fisherfolk in Area M - 268,315 salmon were caught there Tuesday for a total harvest there of 9.45 million. To break that daily harvest down by species, that was 141,224 sockeye, 99,803 pinks, 24,025 chum, 2,185 silvers, and 1,078 kings.

The season total by species is 7.47 million sockeye, 1.3 million pinks, 639,367 chum, 8,873 Chinook, and 6,934 coho.

Get in touch at fish@kdlg.org.

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.
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.
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!