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Bristol Bay brings home more than half of Alaska's sockeyes

July 23rd, 2012 | Laine Welch Print this article   Email this article  

The red salmon catch at Bristol Bay is on its way to 20 million fish and will very likely go higher, due to a strong run of more than 30 million fish.

The reds were still surging into the region's five big rivers and should serve to boost the harvest beyond the forecast of nearly 22 million fish.

With all the salmon fisheries going on every summer all across Alaska, you might wonder why so much attention is focused on Bristol Bay? The answer can be summed up in two words: sockeye salmon.

Bristol Bay's rivers are home to the largest red salmon runs in the world.

Sockeye is by far Alaska's most valuable salmon fishery- and well over one third (sometimes as much as half!) of the state's total salmon fishing earnings come from Bristol Bay. The Bay also has the most fishermen, with more than 2,800 salmon permit holders.

Whereas other fishing regions like Copper River, Prince William Southeast, Kodiak, Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula might get sockeye catches ranging from 1 million to 5 million fish, Bristol Bay's harvests typically fall into the 20 to 40 million range.

Here's how it stacks up in terms of value, based on the 2011 season:

Last year's exvessel (dockside) value of Alaska's total salmon catch last year was $603 million, the third best ever. Chinook salmon (kings) rang in at just over $20 million; cohos (silvers) were worth $23.4 million; and chums topped $93 million at the Alaska docks. The pink salmon catch had a value of just over $170 million.

Here's the biggie: Alaska's sockeye salmon catch was worth $296 million at the Alaska docks last year, on a catch of nearly 40 million fish. More than half of the sockeyes came from Bristol Bay.

Help for kings and ports - King salmon returns are so low to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, almost no fishing is being allowed for anything, even for subsistence purposes. Alaska Senator Mark Begich last week asked Governor Parnell to declare a fisheries disaster in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, including the interior region of the Yukon River watershed. By doing so, it will allow Begich to pursue federal help, such as happened during a similar salmon situation in 2009.

Sen. Begich told Parnell in a July 9th letter that in visits to the region this month, he saw firsthand the hardship endured by residents from the lack of salmon, especially combined with the high costs of energy and other goods and services.

"Because of the area that these fish are in, the State has a huge obligation here," Begich said at a media teleconference, adding that "the State has to do more to ensure food security for the far west regions."

"The state has to do more in terms of research and analysis of the fisheries. We have a role, but the federal government has limited resources in this area and we are calling on the state to do more work in this arena - to have more consistent data, and to start strategizing on a long term plan for fisheries sustainability in those regions, especially for subsistence users."

A Parnell spokesperson said since Alaska's salmon season is still ongoing, it is too soon for the governor to respond to the call for a disaster declaration.

Sen. Begich also said the state needs to pay more attention to Alaska's ports.

"We need to prepare Alaska for what is happening and what is coming," he said. "Oil and gas development in the Arctic, the mineral development around the state, or the fisheries expansion - all these require our ports to be more robust than they are today."?Fish watch - Lots of fishing in Alaska besides salmon: halibut and sablefish are still being targeted in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Nearly half of the 24 million pound halibut catch limit has been caught. About 12 million pounds remain in the sablefish (black cod) quota of just over 29 million pounds. Alaska's scallop fisheries opened July 1, panning waters from Yakutat to the Bering Sea. ... Pollock and cod fisheries also occur in the summer. ... The Bering Sea squid fishery is close to reaching its nearly 800,000 pound quota. ... The Aleutian islands gold king crab fishery opens August 15 with a catch topping 6 million pounds.

Find tickets for three days of Salmonstock, August 3-5 in Ninilchik. Find out more at


Laine Welch can be reached at Fish Factor

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