Another big sockeye run predicted for Bristol Bay

Bristol Bay is expecting another whopping sockeye salmon run, the third consecutive year of above-average harvests.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists predict that 46.5 million sockeye will return to area rivers, meaning a commercial harvest of around 30 million.

The forecast range is actually somewhere between 36 million and 56 million sockeye, which even at the low end would be a decent run.

Broken down by district, the Naknek-Kvichak district is expecting a return of around 23 million fish, Egigik about 7.4 million, Ugashik about 4.95 million and Togiak should see a return of about 600,000 sockeye.

While still a good forecast, if it comes in at the 46.5 million sockeye number, it will not compare to this season.

The 2015 run came in at 58 million sockeye, putting it in second place out of the last 20 runs. It was 12 percent above the pre-season forecast, and 53 percent above the 20-year average. 

The harvest was 35.6 million sockeye, also second out of the last 20 runs. 

Sadly, the ex-vessel value was not able to claim that same title.

Bristol Bay fishermen delivered a total of 184.8 million pounds of reds, with a preliminary value of $92.4 million. That puts it 12 percent below the 20-year average.

The value for all salmon species in Bristol Bay was $94.8 million, 15 percent below the 20-year average.

Like all areas of the state, the sockeye were below average size, as well. The bay-wide average was 5.2 pounds, the lowest in the past 20 years.

The question that keeps fishermen and processors up at night is run timing: Was the 2015 season an anomaly or the wave of the future?

The peak of the Bristol Bay run is traditionally July 4, but a July 8 article in the Alaska Journal of Commerce said the bay was a bust.

“As of July 5, daily harvest summaries from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game ... report that 8.87 million Bristol Bay reds have been caught. That is less than half of what was caught by this time last year, and 35 percent less than the five-year average.”

It continued, “In the fishing community, some hope lingers that the run will still come in as predicted, but ADFG biologists say there’s little hope the run is simply late.”

A few days later, they were eating those words, hopefully along with some fresh red salmon.  

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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