56.2 million: Bristol Bay 2017 fourth biggest total run, fourth biggest harvest ever

Aug 4, 2017

While the count is not officially complete, the 56.2 million total run is bigger than all recorded years but 1980, 1995, and 2015. The harvest of 37.5 million is bested only by 1993, 1996, and 2016.

The state's final Bristol Bay daily run summary, published on July 30, 2017.
Credit ADF&G

The state has put a preliminary tally of 56.2 million on this year’s total Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run. That’s about 35 percent bigger than the preseason forecast of 41.5 million. The harvest for now stands at 37.5 million, which is 10 million more than was expected.

Audio transcript: All of Bristol Bay’s managed rivers have met or exceeded their escapement goals, several district records were broken, and it seems quite a few fishermen logged their best seasons ever. Among those is Kurt Baumgart, who fishes the Ryne B in the Nushagak District. He’s not sure if he’ll ever see another summer like 2017.

“I’d like to,” he says, with a laugh. “It was phenomenal. I’ve never seen that much fish in the Nushagak or anywhere in the Bay. They were all the way from Schooner’s Channel to West Channel, just anywhere you went, you could put your net out and load up.”

Baumgart is a 36-year-veteran of Bristol Bay’s fishery, and says matter-of-factly that he is usually one of Trident Seafoods’ top boats. The number of pounds he and his crew put away this season is staggering, though he didn’t want to let that be public for sake of it coming across as boastful.

Baumgart hopes this year’s unexpectedly large harvest and higher base price will make for a rising tide that lifts a lot of Bristol Bay boats.

“It’s great because we’re going to this RSW required for everybody, so everybody’s got a lot of money to spend on that. It’s good times, good times for Bristol Bay right now.”

This year’s total run appears to be the fourth largest on record since 1952, bested in size by 1980 (62.5 million), 1995 (60.7), and 2015 (59.1). The harvest of 37.5 million appears to be the fourth biggest of the Bay’s history, behind 1993 (40.4), 1995 (44.2), and 2016 (37.6).

It’s possible 2017's harvest will edge past 2016, because as ADF&G’s westside manager Tim Sands points out, the real final tally isn’t quite complete

"We’re still counting at Togiak, and there’s still some fishing happening. We’ll get final numbers from fish tickets sometime this winter, but there shouldn’t be any significant changes for sockeye anyway."

Bags of Togiak set net sockeye being delivered to a beach tender in the last week of July.
Credit KDLG

The numbers could also be adjusted down a bit too when the state gets a better handle on how many chum were mixed in with the sockeye catch. That happens as processors supply final production numbers Fish and Game can compare back to the actual fish tickets.

While most of the effort quickly dropped off in the last week of July, there is still some effort in the Bay and there are still sockeye being landed. The eastside districts are open on the fall schedule, and Sands has the Nushagak District open till further notice.

“There’s at least a couple buyers out there, and at least a couple self-markets, direct markets as well. So there is some effort out there, 20 to 30 deliveries a day maybe, and a good half of those are set net.”

Sands said fish deliveries last Tuesday seemed to be about half reds, half silvers. That will tilt more and more towards the coho each day. He can leave the fishery open, he says, because there is not enough effort on the westside to have an impact on the silver runs.

“Most of these populations can sustain a harvest rate of at least fifty percent, and I don’t think we’re going to approach fifty percent with a couple dozen boats.”

Sands did shut down the Wood River Special Harvest Area, which had been open as an optional fishery for set netters who finished the season behind the drift fleet for the Nushagak’s managed allocation split. One of the reasons to shut it down was to protect the late kings which are believed to be bound for the Muklung River.

The Nushagak king run struggled more than expected this year, but still climbed a little past the minimum escapement goal of 55,000. (The state may take a forensic look at its data to see if the more kings went upriver than the sonar was able to count on this low water year.) The commercial fleet hauled in 32,135 kings in the Nushagak District, which was higher than the roughly 23,000 landed last year.

"One of the things that caught my attention was the amount of kings caught over at Igushik, which indicates to me there was some good king run up the Igushik River," said Sands, "and the late kings caught. There’s a fair number of kings still being caught this late in the season, which it’s usually over. So I’m optimistic that our king escapement on the Nushagak is strong enough to not be a biological concern.

The Kvichak tower crew logged some big escapement days in the final week of counts. The tower came down on July 31.
Credit ADF&G

The Ugashik, Egegik, and Nushagak Districts all came in above their preseason forecasts.

(District forecast versus actual, in millions of sockeye: Ugashik 5.46 / 6.63; Egegik 10.65 / 14.41; Nushagak 8.62 / 19.42)

The Togiak District is shy of its 660,000 sockeye forecast but is still fishing, and counting.

The Naknek-Kvichak District came up about a million fish short (15.2) of the state’s preseason forecast of 16.1 million. That district ran late as well, and interestingly did count quite a few Kvichak sockeye just before the tower came down on July 31.

That tower crew tallied a final 432,000 fish in its last week, putting the total Kvichak sockeye escapement to 3.16 million.