Bristol Bay sockeye run makes late surge

Bristol Bay lived up to its reputation for unpredictability as a bizarre late rush of sockeyes has surged into fishermen’s nets nearly a week past the historical peak, with enough still coming to potentially surpass the 20-year average harvest by several million fish.

After a lackluster beginning, Bristol Bay red salmon have roared to life well past their normal timing, with a July 14 total commercial harvest of just less than 23 million. The new outlook predicts the harvest will be around 30 million, short of the initial forecast but far greater than the 20-year average harvest.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game first forecast Alaska’s most valuable fishery to have a commercial harvest of 37.6 million fish, nearly 60 percent more than the 20-year average of 23.5 million. Then the preseason forecast for Bristol Bay’s Kvichak River run was adjusted downward 33 percent from a predicted harvest of 7.12 million sockeye to 4.7 million, bringing the official forecast for the entire bay down from 37.6 million.

Next, early season fish came in substantially underweight, which will offset the entire season’s average weight, according to biologists.

The historical midpoint of July 4 came and went with only 8.87 million fish harvested, less that half of what was caught by this time last year, and 35 percent less than the five-year average. All signs pointed to a harvest of less than 20 million puny fish.

Finally, the sockeye have now returned in full vigor later than any comparably sized run. Only 1971 had seen this late a run, but the harvest of 15 million salmon was not even biologically analogous to 2015. 

The 2015 run is a historical anomaly.

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