Nushagak setnetters try to not catch too much as salmon run nears record
Through July 10, Alaska Department of Fish and Game counted a total run of 14.8 million fish to the Nushagak district in Bristol Bay — well past the forecasted 8.6 million. As daily districtwide catches continue to exceed 500,000 pounds, set-netters and most of the drift fleet, continue to fish on limits.
Set-netters have been restricted to 2,000 pounds per day, with some additional poundage allowed if they can show a fish ticket predating June 20. These 'golden tickets' are good for a one-time addition of 1,000 pounds to their daily delivery.
"We've been getting way more sleep than we want to," said Sam Steen while fishing in the Wood River Sunday. "It's kind of difficult, because we've been doing all these things that go against everything you typically do as a fisherman to catch a lot of fish."
Steen said it typically takes about two hours of fishing for him and his crew to catch their limit, and the main challenge is to not catch too many fish. As the fisherman picked their site clean Sunday, the net was immediately bombarded with more sockeye as soon as it went back into the water. "That's where the whole 'not trying to catch too many' comes into play," said Steen.
Steen, like almost all set-netters in the Nushagak, sells his fish to Peter Pan Seafoods. If fisherman catch more than their limit for the day, the overages are donated to charity by Peter Pan.
The Wood River is usually only opened to commercial fishing in years where the sockeye run in the Nushagak River is struggling, but a provision passed in recent years allows ADF&G to open the Wood River to catch excess escapement in the Wood. With strong runs to all river systems in the Nushagak district, the Wood River special harvest has been opened to setnetters this year to help meet their allocated catch percentage.
"It's a way for us to catch some of the excess fish that get past, but also allow people to fish out in the bay at the same time," said Tom Rollman Jr., who co-wrote the proposal. "It kind of spreads us out, and allows everybody to catch fish."
As the Nushagak district approaches its all-time record for total catch, many fisherman admit they have never seen anything like it. Curtis Olson has fished in the district for 37 years. He was medevaced out with kidney failure during last year's fishing season, and considered retirement. "I'm glad that I continued fishing to be able to see this run; to be able to participate in the greatest run ever in the history of the Nushagak district," said Olson. "To see something like this and just to be a part of it and see the amount of fish that has gone by here. The greatest run ever to the Nushagak district, and I lived to be a part of it."