Bristol Bay Slows
Statewide Salmon Harvest Tops 35 Million Fish
A Bristol Bay fisherman at Egegik picks sockeye salmon from the drift gillnet in July 2009, when the Bristol Bay harvest reached 30,887,297 red salmon. File photo by Margaret Bauman.
Alaska’s statewide wild salmon harvest topped 35 million fish by July 8, including overall strong returns at Chignik, Kodiak, Copper River and the Alaska Peninsula, while the Bristol Bay fleet was feeling the pain of a second surge that never came.
The total run in Bristol Bay through July 6 stood at 18.6 million salmon, with a cumulative harvest of 13,170,022 fish.
While economically the Bristol Bay harvest will be a big disappointment to commercial harvesters and processors, it is not by any stretch of the imagination a biological disaster, said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries.
“We are coming down from a period of pretty good productivity. It hasn’t been as good as it was in the mid 1990s, but it has been pretty good,” Bruce said. “If you look at the history of Bristol Bay, you can see this has happened before, but for whatever reasons we didn’t have as high a productivity as we did in the past.”
Statistics compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show how widely the harvest fluctuation can vary. The 20-year harvest average for Bristol Bay is 25,360,300 fish, while the 2002-2011 average is 24,214,831 fish.
The University of Washington’s Fisheries Research Institute meanwhile issued an updated forecast summary on July 7, noting that the catch and escapement date from July 2 through July 5 had prompted researchers there to greatly reduce their in-season estimates of run strength.
Observations of catch and escapement data indicate the 2013 Bristol Bay run was eight days early. “District specific arrival timing shows a range of 15 days early (Ugashik) to 8 days early (Naknek-Kvichak),” the report said. “For all districts and baywide, this will be the earliest run on record.”
“The reduction in observed daily catch and escapement from a seasonal maximum of 1.5 million fish on June 30 to less than 400,000 on July 5 has a strong influence on predictions generated from weighted models incorporating this data source, as catch and escapement based forecasts rapidly become the best estimators of run strength at this point in the season,” the report said.
“Current catch and escapement data for the 2013 return of sockeye indicate that (Bristol Bay) district returns have peaked and quickly dropped off,” the report said. “However, it is not unprecedented for the Kvichak to have a pause the first week of July, followed by a secondary mode.”
The UW-FRI in-season report said catch plus escapement data through July 5 appeared to show peaks in all fishing districts except Togiak. “All indications from C+E (catch plus escapement) data to date are that the total run will fall short of pre-season expectations.”
According to the state’s preliminary commercial salmon harvest report issued July 7, the Bristol Bay harvest had reached 13.5 million fish, including some 15,000 kings, 473,000 chum and 13.032,000 red salmon. Silver and pink salmon harvests in Bristol Bay through that date were less than 1,000 each.
The statewide total of 35,442,000 salmon included 163,000 king, 6,928,000 chum, 126,000 silver, 7,760,000 pink and 20,465,000 red salmon.
At Chignik, the commercial fleet’s harvest stood at 1.8 million fish, including 1,000 king, 88,000 chum, fewer than 1,000 silver, 55,000 pink and 1,649,000 red salmon, while at Kodiak, fishermen had harvested an estimated 1.5 million fish, including 13,000 king, 184,000 chum, fewer than 1,000 silver, 105,000 pink and 1,201,000 red salmon. The Copper River harvest stood at 1.4 million fish, including 8,000 king, 10,000 chum, fewer than 1,000 silver, 9,000 pink and 1,360,000 sockeyes.
On the Alaska Peninsula, the harvest reached 2.8 million fish, the bulk of them from the South Peninsula, where the catch was 2,000 king, 396,000 chum, 1,000 silver, 310,000 pink and 1,642,000 red salmon.
Upper Cook Inlet was showing a harvest of 13.6 million fish, including 13,032,000 sockeye, 473,000 chum, 15,000 king and fewer than 1,000 silver and pink salmon.
At Juneau’s Amalga Harbor, a special terminal harvest area for returning Douglas Island pink and chum salmon, harvesters brought in 5 million pounds – some 645,000 fish – during a six-hour opening on July 4, and gillnetters have been doing well on the same fish a little north and west of Juneau, Bruce noted.