Bristol Bay sockeye fishery comes in as second largest in 20 years
The final tally is in, and Bristol Bay fishermen saw their second largest sockeye return in two decades this summer - but by other measures, it wasn't as robust a fishery as some years past.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released an updated run summary on Sept. 9, which reported a total harvest of 37.3 million sockeye and total run of 51.4 million fish, the second largest since 1996.
That was well above the 46 million sockeye run expected before the season began, and above the 35.1 million average over that time period. It was also larger than the 46 million fish expected before the season began.
Egegik, Nushagak, Togiak and Ugashik all posted larger-than-forecast runs, while Naknek-Kvichak actually came in below forecast. Ugashik and Igushik had larger escapements than their goal ranges, but every other river system was within its goal range for sockeye, although the Alagnak survey indicated a smaller chinook run than expected.
Fish prices and size were still on the small side, but larger than in 2015. According to the run summary, the sockeye fishery was worth $153.2 million. That's an increase from the $92.4 million value in 2015, and based on an average ex-vessel price of 76 cents per pound this past summer. That's a preliminary fishery value, and does not include quality bonuses, or post-season bonuses.
The preliminary average sockeye size was 5.4 pounds, up from 2015 but still smaller than average.
Like 2015, however, the final review suggests that it was a very late sockeye run - at least seven days.
And by early September, while the sockeye run seemed to be over, some fishermen were still targeting silvers. The preliminary harvest count was about 91,387 silvers, the vast majority of which came from the Nushagak District, as is typically the case. There, more than 80,000 silvers were harvested in the 2016 fishery, which was more than the 20-year average.
For all species, the 2016 fishery was worth $156 million. Chum came in as the second most valuable fishery, with about 1 million fish worth an average 32 cents per pound making for a chum fishery value of about $2 million. That was slightly more fish than the 20-year average, and the Nushagak District was the largest contributor to the chum fishery.
Chinooks came in as the least valuable fishery, worth $249,000 for 2016, with a price per pound of about 67 cents. The 29,570 chinook landed commercially was about half of the 20-year average of 49,368. Nushagak, Egegik, Naknek-Kvichak and Togiak had smaller-than-average chinook catches, causing the overall low numbers. The Ugashik harvest was actually larger than usual, with 1,146 caught in 2016, compared to an average of 852 for that district over the past 20 years.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.