UW’s Alaska Salmon Program forecast for Bristol Bay a little lower than ADF&G

Dec 6, 2017

Univ. of Washington biologists predict a 47.6 million total run (compared to ADF&G's 51.3 million), forecasting smaller return to the Nushagak, but slightly larger to Ugashik and Naknek-Kvichak, than the state.

RSW chilled Bristol Bay sockeye being delivered to the F/V Lady Helen in Ugashik, 2016.
Credit KDLG

It’s not unusual for the biologists at the University of Washington and the biologists at Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game to differ on Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon forecast. Going into 2018, UW’s team predicts a total return of 47.6 million, down 3.7 million from ADF&G’s prediction of 51.3 million.

The primary difference between the two centers on the Nushagak District, which is comprised of returns to the Wood, Igushik and Nushagak Rivers. ADF&G, trusting their models with a little more confidence than last year, is estimating an all-time record total return of 21.8 million, where UW is coming in much lower at 14.7 million. (This week, after crunching 2017’s fish tickets, ADF&G said the Nushagak District return actually did top 20 million this year.)

Broken down further, ADF&G predicts a massive 8.0 million age class 1.2 returners to the Wood River, where UW predicts 5.3 million of the same fish. The Nushagak River age class 1.3 sockeye are the real wild card: ADF&G predicts an almost unbelievable 6.6 million (quietly suggesting that may even be low), but the UW biologists say that number will be closer to 2.7 million.

Credit Univ. of Washington Alaska Salmon Program

UW favors a slightly higher return of 17.9 million to the Naknek-Kvichak District, up from the state’s 16.6 million prediction, mainly due to Naknek River 1.3 sockeye. UW also predicts a larger return of 4.4 million to the Ugashik District, up considerably from ADF&G’s 2.9 million.

The Egegik and Togiak District forecasts are pretty similar, at a little over 9.0 million and a little under 1.0 million, respectively.

Even though the University of Washington total run is a little below ADF&G, the biologists point out theirs is still 11 percent higher than the recent 10 year average, and 25 percent higher than the recent 20 year average.

Greg Buck is the state’s area research biologist for Bristol Bay, and Chris Boatright is the program manager for UW’s Alaska Salmon Program. Who will come closest to the actual return? Buck v. Boatright 2018 should be settled by next August 1.

dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281