As its season reaches its peak, Bristol Bay is already breaking single-day harvest records for sockeye salmon.
Anglers in the Nushagak district harvested more than 2.4 million sockeye salmon in a single day on June 30, breaking last year’s record of more than 600,000 fish. It’s the most caught single-day sockeye salmon in the district in its 130-year history, according to Tim Sands, biologist in charge of West Bay area management for the Department of Fisheries and Alaska hunting.
“With the information we have now, we’re well on our way to big predictions,” he said. “Whether we continue to stay on track over the next few days remains to be seen.”
Since Saturday, there’s already been a total run of 13 million in the Nushagak, “and I don’t think we’re halfway there,” Sands said.
So far, an estimated 29 million sockeye have returned to Bristol Bay’s various waterway systems. The Nushagak district tends to be the biggest for participation, with 880 licenses registered to fish there as of Monday. This is more than double the second largest district, Egegik, which has 336 registered permits on Monday. The large harvests are in line with forecasts this year – a total run of around 75 million fish, the largest in Bristol Bay’s history.
Despite the increase in numbers, the fleet and the industry have been able to manage it so far, Sands said. By simple calculations of what was caught by the driftnet fleet, that’s about 3,300 fish per boat on June 30, when they broke the record. Harvests slowed, hitting 892,000 on Saturday and rebounding to just over a million on Sunday.
It’s still early in the Bristol Bay season, but samples of fish collected so far show the fish are smaller than the long-term average again. Stacy Vega, a biologist with Fish and Game at King Salmon, said the average has been around 4.9 pounds so far. The predominant year-class is 5-year-old fish, a year older than the main year-class last year so far, she said.
“We’re definitely seeing more than expected, but the Nushagak is a big part of it,” she said. “Regarding the size of the fish, it is obvious that a fish from 3 oceans is larger than a fish from 2 oceans. In weight and lengths at age, they are smaller than average. C This is true with every age class we see Weight and length at age are below historical averages.
Managers extended fishing time last week to account for high winds making fishing conditions difficult for shore anglers, Sands said.
Despite high temperatures and dry conditions elsewhere in the state, he said temperatures have remained low and the region has more snow than in the last warm year of 2019, when high course temperatures d have disrupted salmon migration, so managers are not as concerned about this so far.
Although the full value of the harvest is not determined until after the season, when post-season price adjustments are paid to harvesters, Peter Pan Seafoods harvesters receive a base price of $1.15 per pound at the dock. The processor announced an initial base price of $1 in mid-June, then raised it to $1.15 last week.
Prince William Sound harvests are also increasing, with the sockeye run strengthening in the Copper River and chum salmon harvests increasing. Managers wrote in a July 1 update that the sockeye escapement was higher than expected, with 623,202 fish counted so far. So far, anglers have harvested 455,000 sockeye in the Copper River District, halfway to the expected harvest of 716,000 sockeye for the season. That’s significantly lower than the region’s recent 10-year average of just over 1 million sockeye.
Chum harvests are also up from 2021 in the region, with 1.175 million chum harvested to date. That’s 34% more than was harvested on the same date last year, according to market analysis by McKinley Research Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institution.
However, chum harvests are down overall from last year, mainly due to shortages in the Alaska Peninsula and the Southeast so far. The Alaska Peninsula has seen a boom in chum salmon for the past five years, but the current harvest is in line with the 10-year average, according to Fish and Game. So far, overall chum salmon harvests have been low in the southeast.
The Upper Cook Inlet season is almost fully underway, with all gear types expected to open in the coming week. The driftnet fleet has been in the water for a few weeks, and the northern district has been since late May, but the set nets in the upper sub-district – those along the beaches from Kasilof to Nikiski – are only partially open. The Kenai Chapter Setnetters will not open until July 8. Even when they do, due to tightened restrictions on fishing for king salmon in the Kenai River, they are limited to 24 hours of fishing in total per week, which usually translates to two 12 fishing periods of a hour, issued by emergency order only.
Upper Cook Inlet anglers have so far harvested a total of 71,221 sockeye, most of which are sockeye. So far, the drifting fleet is lagging behind the gillnetters, although the drifting fleet tends to be the dominant fisherwoman later in the year. The Kenai River run, which is the largest, has also just started, with around 15,000 salmon counted on sonar since counts began on July 1.
Kodiak anglers are on track for average sockeye salmon harvests so far, according to Fish and Game. As of June 30, they had caught 438,000 sockeye; they also harvested 88,000 chum, which is below average. Near the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik has yet to have an opening due to low early sockeye salmon returns.
Contact Elizabeth Earl at [email protected].