Alaska’s Bristol Bay sockeye run second biggest in 20 years

A late but bountiful 2016 sockeye run in Alaska’s Bristol Bay was the second largest in the last 20 years, trailing only last season’s massive tally.

Preliminary numbers released earlier this month by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said 51.4 million sockeye salmon ran into the five districts in the bay, well over the 20-year average.

“Average is about 35 million total, so whatever is going on out there in the ocean appears to be sockeye friendly,” said Paul Salomone, the Area Management Biologist for Bristol Bay’s Egegik and Ugashik districts.

The only larger sockeye run over the past two decades was last season’s 58 million. But like 2015, this year’s bonanza did not arrive without some nail-biting on the part of fisherman and biologists. The run was several days late, and fisherman bobbed nervously until the last days of June, when fish started slamming nets in most districts.

“The recent five-year peak was July 3. This year was about six days later in Egegik, on July 9,” Salomone said.

Once the fish arrived, their numbers exceeded almost all of the preseason predictions. The harvest of 37.3 million sockeye was a quarter more than the projected 29.5 million, and most districts were well above their forecasts. For the second straight year, the Ugashik district surprised with 8.4 million fish, 70 percent over the expectation.

With over 10 million fish, Egegik came in 10 percent over their prediction. Only Naknek-Kvichak did not reach their forecast, its 21.4 million fish about 8 percent below biologists’ predictions.

And more good news for the industry: Sockeye prices clawed out of the USD 0.50 (EUR 0.45) per-pound hole they were in 2015, up to USD 0.76 (EUR 0.67), according to Fish and Game.

Largely because pink salmon run on even years, the catch on all salmon species was larger than 2015 at 39.2 million, for a total ex-vessel value of USD 156.2 million (EUR 139.4 million), well over the 20-year average of USD 111 million (EUR 99 million).


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