Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Seawatch: Historic sockeye run predicted for Bristol Bay

ADF&G says 2022 run could break this year’s record

Bristol Bay is expecting a phenomenal, historic run of sockeye salmon next year to the tune of 75 million fish returning to the area, exceeding the already record-breaking return of 63.2 million fish this year.

That could mean a harvest of as much as 60 million sockeye, far above the 2021 harvest of 40.4 million fish.

In the discussion of the forecast, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that forecasting future salmon returns is inherently difficult and uncertain.

“We have used similar methods since 2001 to produce the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast, which have performed well when applied to Bristol Bay as a whole. Since 2001, our forecasts have, on average, under forecast the run by 12% and have ranged from 44% below the actual run in 2014 to 19% above the actual run in 2011,” according to the advisory announcement.

The 2021 inshore Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run of 66.1 million fish is the largest total run on record and was 60% above the 41.3 million average run for the last 20-year period (2001– 2020). Additionally, it was just the third time, on record, the Bristol Bay inshore sockeye salmon run has exceeded 60 million fish.

ADF&G area management biologist Tim Sands in Dillingham said that the forecast is not a reaction or correction from the past few years where runs have come in above the expected return.

“We didn’t change anything in the way we did the forecast,” Sands said. “It’s the same methodology, just a bigger forecast. We had a bigger run in 2021, and it’s kind of self-perpetuating. A bigger run means many of our indicators for the next year are also bigger, and so the models produce bigger numbers again.”

Sands said there were no observable problems with the processors being able to handle the influx of fish, possibly because the runs were staggered in their peaks.

Sands also said that they have not seen any issues with smolt needing to stay an extra year in fresh water to gain enough weight to successfully migrate out, which has been an issue in the Kenai River and other systems in Cook Inlet. Indeed, the opposite is happening, with fewer smolt in systems where they traditionally stay for two years staying the extra year.

Sands said that one theory about the healthy runs may have to do with warmer winters and fewer months of ice covered lakes.

“There are more days with lakes ice-free in the summer,” he said, “more days when the fish can actively feed and get a little bit bigger. By the time they get out in the marine environment, they’re better able to compete.”

Whether or not the expected run will cause problems for processors being able to handle the volume remains to be seen.

However, Mark Anderson, who runs the Silver Bay Seafoods plant in False Pass, said that so far the processors have risen to the challenge in the past several years, noting that no processors have put boats on catch limits for several years in spite of the record returns.

“Every year it’s like ‘can it get any bigger?’ and we’re talking about numbers that no one really imagined,” he said. “Obviously it presents a challenge for the processors. At the same time, this was a huge year, and yet the processors were able to deal with it.”

He added that even with this year’s record run, there was also a near-record price paid for the sockeyes and no one had a problem selling their fish.

“The industry has been able to handle some pretty big runs, and all of the plants have modernized their (facilities). They’ve all gotten way more efficient at this,” Anderson said. “There was a time not long ago when the numbers that we did this year would have seemed undo-able.”

Anderson said that this season some Bristol Bay salmon tenders were sent to processing plants in other parts of the state, including False Pass and Kodiak, to take care of the fish, which is not uncommon.

Next season, if the run returns as forecast, there will probably be more tenders running fish even farther afield since it’s not a pink salmon year, so places like Prince William Sound may have extra processing capacity.

Anderson added that between the new Silver Bay Seafoods plant in Bristol Bay, which can handle 2.5 million pounds per day, plus other plants modernizing and adding capacity, the processors appear to be well situated for the upcoming season.

Cristy Fry can be reached at

More in News

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Anchor Point house fire leaves one dead, one in serious condition

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Snow and debris from an avalanche can be seen near Mile 45 on the Seward Highway on Monday, March 29, 2021. (Photo courtesy Goldie Shealy)
Center promotes avalanche awareness

The Chugach Avalanche Center in Girdwood will begin its daily forecasts Saturday.

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: Historic sockeye run predicted for Bristol Bay

ADF&G says 2022 run could break this year’s record

The entrance to the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area in the Tongass National Forest was covered in snow on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, a day after federal authorities announced the next step in restoring the 2001 Roadless Rule on the forest. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Feds put freeze on Roadless Rule rollback

On the Roadless Rule again.

Alaska man pleads not guilty to threatening 2 US senators

If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

Commercial fishing vessels are seen here on the Kenai River on July 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Fishing industry takes a hit during pandemic

Overall fish harvesting jobs in Alaska dropped by the widest margin since 2000 — 14.1% — in 2020.

FILE - The Olympic rings stand atop a sign at the entrance to the Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley, Calif., on July 8, 2020. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, declared "squaw" to be a derogatory term and said she is taking steps to remove the term from federal government use and to replace other derogatory place names. The popular California ski resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe earlier this year. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)
Interior secretary seeks to rid U.S. of derogatory place names

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday formally declared… Continue reading

Most Read