Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon fishery is forecast to produce a run of nearly 49 million fish in 2020, with a harvest of 34.56 million reds, exceeding the harvest forecast of 26.11 million fish in 2019, when fishermen actually caught over 43 million reds.
As the Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes in its 2020 forecast for the famed Southwest Alaska fishery those sockeye runs to Bristol Bay have been highly variable, and warming ocean and other climate conditions could make the salmon runs more variable in years to come.
If the run returns as anticipated, it would be 6 percent larger than the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay runs of 45.9 million fish and 29 percent greater than the long-term (1963-2019) average of 34.6 million fish. All systems are expected to meet their spawning escapement goals.
A Bristol Bay harvest of 34.56 million fish would be 11 percent higher than the most recent 10-year average of 31.1 million fish and 38 percent greater than the long-term (1963 to present) average harvest of 21.5 million fish.
The influence of abnormally high water temperatures in the summer of 2019, combined with drought in rivers and streets that caused thermal block, which kept many salmon from reaching their spawning grounds, won’t be determined until 2023, when the salmon spawned in 2019 return to the Bay as four-year-old fish, state biologists said.
A breakdown of the run forecast includes 19.14 million or 39 percent 1.2 fish; 7.06 million or 14 percent 2.2 fish, 21.04 million or 43 percent 1.3 fish, and 1.68 million or 3 percent 2.3 fish. The fish are categorized by years in fresh water and the ocean after leaving the spawning grounds, so a 1.2 fish, for example, would be one that has emerged from gravel in the spawning grounds and spent one year in fresh water and two in saltwater before returning to the Bay.
The run forecast by district and river system includes 19.97 million to the Naknek-Kvichak district, 10.75 million to the Egegik District, 4.67 million to the Ugashik District, 12.63 million to the Nushagak District and 0.93 million to the Togiak District.
ADF&G also expressed thanks for donations totaling $750,000 from the Bristol Bay Fisheries Collaborative in 2019 for management of the fishery.
The collaborative, an agreement between ADF&G and the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute, began in 2016 to work with stakeholders to restore management of the fishery and to raise funds to maintain that management.
The agreement is supported by ADF&G, BBSRI, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, set net harvesters, processors, municipalities, villages, support industries and other stakeholders. Learn more about the agreement at bbsri.org/bbfc.