Hawaii & Alaska
Credit: Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Facebook page

Bristol Bay sockeye well above forecast as peak passes

Peak landings in Alaska's prolific Bristol Bay fishery were reached July 8 with some 2.55 million sockeye caught that day alone. But strong catches continue to come in, according to data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and bay's harvest now looks like it will see another 14m sockeye above the 26.1m harvest level that biologists first predicted.

“I would guess we’re going to end up around 40m for harvest. It’s hard to imagine that we won’t,” Forrest Bowers, deputy director of ADF&G's commercial fisheries division told Undercurrent News.

Some 36m sockeye were landed in the bay as of July 14, with catches in the Nushagak and Egigik district leading the way with 13.8m, and 11.8m sockeye caught there to date. Only the Ugashik district, where only 325,000 sockeye have been landed, is meeting the ADF&G's escapement goals a concern.

“We’re really lagging in escapement for Ugashik right now,” Bowers said.

Bowers said that he believes another 4m to 5m sockeye could be caught in the remaining weeks of the season in the bay.

“At this point, it partly depends on effort and how long people want to stick around and fish. We do start to see things tail off after the middle of July,” he said.

The bay was initially projected to see a return of 40m sockeye in 2019, under the 10-year average of 44m sockeye. The return -- a range of 27.9m to 52.5m sockeye has been estimated -- would still be larger than the 55-year average of 34.2m sockeye, the agency said. The bay saw a record return in 2018 -- 62.4m sockeye -- with over 7.5m sockeye returning to the Wood River.

Elsewhere, state sockeye landings are a mixed picture

"Pretty poor sockeye returns at this point in Kodiak. Chignik early run sockeye was better than last year but still quite poor," he said. "Chignik late-run sockeye are off to a good start though."

Bowers said that Alaska will exceed the pre-season statewide sockeye forecast of 40.1m as 40.4m have been caught to date.

"Bristol Bay will likely make up for some of the shortfalls in other areas because Bristol Bay has come in so much larger than expected," he said.

Elsewhere across the state last year, catches were down. Biologists have previously blamed the "blob", a mass of warm water that persisted in the Gulf of Alaska from 2014 to 2016, for disrupting sockeye migration patterns and causing lower than normal survival.

Contact the author jason.smith@undercurrentnews.com

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