Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 27, 2022
In the penultimate fish report for the 2022 season we look at the ecology, biology and management of the fishery.
Bristol Bay is wrapping up its largest sockeye run on record with over 77 million salmon returning to spawn. Harvest is also at an all-time high of nearly 60 million, almost exactly what Fish and Game’s preseason forecast predicted.
"It's amazing to me to see how productive the systems are, relative to their historical averages," said Tim Sands, Fish and Game’s area management biologist for the west side of Bristol Bay. "Just not sure what happened that made it so much more productive, but certainly grateful for the bounty."
He credits the district’s large runs in part to the recent warmer winters.
"Having those mild winters gives that extra growing season or extra week or month or so of growing time for the rearing juvenile sockeye in the lakes and so when they go out to the ocean, they're just a little bit bigger," he said.
But even with record harvest numbers, sockeye escapement was still well over the upper boundary of the goals for both the Wood and Nushagak Rivers. Sands says the lakes and rivers have a high enough carrying capacity to handle that many fish.
"I am not concerned about the biology of it," Sands said. "As far as this idea of density dependent mortality because of too many fish in the lake. I think that you've had other years with bigger escapements and seeing decent returns off those."
He says while he’s sure fishermen would have liked to harvest even more salmon, it’s important to allow both Chinook and chum to meet their escapement goals as well.
"The big thing for me was the king and chum numbers. And we tried hard to get enough kings up the river. And we just didn't quite work out as far as the sonar count," he said.
The last Daily Run Summary for 2022 is scheduled to publish around August 10 and the final season count is expected this fall.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game changed how it counts the fish that pass through the sonar site on the Nushagak River this year. As KDLG’s Corinne Smith reported for our show last week, state biologists hope the new method will yield more accurate estimates of Chinook and chum runs.
How this year has stacked up for kings and chum in the Nushagak
It’s been another year of low escapement counts for kings and chum up the Nushagak River. As of last count, the Chinook run up the Nushagak was around 44,200 fish. Chum were at almost 102,000.
Commercial harvest is another measure of abundance and preliminary catch numbers are also way down.
Across the bay, fishermen caught 7,600 kings. That’s just one fifth of the average harvest over the past 20 years of 39,600 fish.
The bay-wide harvest was around 412,000 chum. That’s less than half of the average harvest of 1.1 million fish over the past 20 years.
Most of that total harvest came from the Nushagak District, where the fleet pulled in 4,600 kings and almost 369,000 chum.
A full rundown of the returns and harvests will come out with the season summary this fall.
Port Moller Test Fishery
This season, the Port Moller Test Fishery launched their first at-sea genetics testing aboard the R/V Half Moon Bay in order to more quickly and efficiently assess the stock composition and abundance of sockeye salmon returning to Bristol Bay districts. KDLG’s Izzy Ross checked in with Michael Link, director of the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute which has managed the test fishery for the past two decades.
Next we dive into the factors that go into the catch index. It’s not an exact science, but the indices supplement information that fishers already have about the fish headed their way. We asked Link about why there was some discrepancy between the catch index and stock estimates and the run.
A slow season in Togiak
Not every run has boomed this summer. Togiak was forecast to see more than 1 million sockeye return this season. But Ed Wilbur, the general manager of Copper River Seafoods’ plant in Togiak, says the run has been slow.
“We were expecting more, and it just hasn’t quite picked up yet. Still hopeful – we still have some time left," Wilbur said.
So far, the total run is just over 334,600. But Togiak’s run is smaller and later than others in the bay. Last year, the largest single-day escapement was in early August. So Wilbur says they’re hoping the run still finishes strong.
“It hasn’t been a complete bust yet, but it definitely hasn’t been a great year yet. We’re hoping for fish to show up and we’re starting to see more jumpers so hopefully we just get a late little push through here," he said.
So far, fishermen have harvested around 282,000 sockeye. And Wilbur said many fishermen still have their nets in the water.
“They were expecting a better year but we understand it just is what it is. They’re still trying and I think a lot of people are still holding out for the run that they’re hoping to come," he said.
Togiak’s escapement is at 52,600 – under halfway to its minimum escapement goal of 120,000 fish.
Sunny days and more showers on the horizon this week — but nothing too unusual. KDLG’s Corinne Smith checked in with climate specialist Rick Thoman for the last Weather Wednesday of the season.
Contact the team at email@example.com.