Hawaii & Alaska

AK - Bristol Bay Sockeye a High Point in the State's Unpredictable Salmon Season

The state’s salmon returns this summer were full of ups and downs. In many areas the runs and harvests were far lower than expected, while Bristol Bay sockeye and Kodiak pinks came back strong.

More than 58 million sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay this summer. It’s another in a series of enormous runs to the fishery. The commercial harvest was just as impressive — Bristol Bay’s fleet hauled in 39.5 million fish, which is the fifth-largest harvest on record.

But while the Bay’s run exceeded 50 million fish for the sixth year in a row — 46% above the 20-year average — many other areas of the state were far below their forecast.

“When you take Bristol Bay out of the picture and look at sockeye harvests in Alaska, the non-Bristol Bay sockeye harvests this year were the lowest on record since 1976," said Dan Leash, an economist with the McDowell Group.

Across all species, the value of the state’s commercial salmon season dropped more than 50% from last year — 56% below last year. 2020 was valued at $295.2 million, while last year was valued at $673.4 million. Harvests were also down by 44%.

“Sometimes when you have a low harvest year, the prices will rise. But that didn’t happen this year," Leash said. "It was sort of a death by 1,000 cuts in terms of the impact of the seafood on the harvesters this year.”

Southeast fisheries saw their worst salmon runs in more than four decades, and the commercial harvest there took a big dive this season.

Read more.