State fisheries biologists are predicting that Bristol Bay’s famed wild sockeye salmon fishery will have a run of some 26 million reds in 2013, with a harvest of 16.59 million fish. That’s down from the 2012 forecast of a run of 32 million reds and a harvest forecast of 21.76 million fish.
The prediction is 33 percent lower than the previous 10-year mean of total runs of 37.61 million fish, with a range of 24.1 million to 46.60 million. By district, that would mean 10.61 million reds to the Naknek-Kvichak district, 6.02 million to Egegik District, 3.53 million to the Ugashik District, 5.25 million fish to the Nushagak District, and 0.59 million to Togiak District.
Norm Van Vactor, general manager for Leader Creek Seafoods, said he was personally expecting a downturn, so it’s not much of a shock. “Processors are eternally optimistic and the last thing you want to do is underestimate production,” said Van Vactor. “You still gear up for processing 24 hours a day.”
Bob Waldrop, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said the industry is used to these up and down run cycles. “It’s like the weather,” Waldrop said. “There is very little we can do about it.”
He’s also leery about making price predictions, because there are so many factors to consider. “It’s not just scarcity that drives the price,” he said.
“We are fortunate,” said Waldrop, to have the abundance we have (in Alaska). That’s why we have had 130 years of commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. It predates the gold rush.”
Historically the total runs of sockeye salmon to Bristol Bay have been highly variable. The 2013 forecast of 26.03 million fish is below the long-term historical average of 32.38 million fish from 1963 to 2012, and the more recent historical average of 39.06 million fish from 2003 to 2012. For seven consecutive years, from 2004 to 2010 the total run was close to or exceeded 40 million sockeye salmon.
In 2011 the total run dropped to 21.91 million reds.