Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BB Sockeye Run Slows; AK Salmon Harvest Reaches 38 Million Fish

Since their hot start, with the run coming in four days early, Bristol Bay commercial fishermen have harvested nearly 20 million fish. At last count, preliminary harvest totals through July 11 showed the harvest standing at 19,514,331 fish, but the total run through Bristol Bay so far has been 26,413,608 fish.

The statewide forecast of a total harvest of 203 million salmon of all species included a Bristol Bay harvest of 28.5 million salmon, out of a run of some 38.5 million fish.

But the run has slowed and fish harvesters and biologists alike are wondering what happened to the two ocean sockeyes, the 4.5 million reds that spent two years in the ocean and two in fresh water. State fisheries biologists say that’s anyone’s guess and it’s unlikely at this point that they will show up.

“The fishery has moved along at a faster pace than usual,” said David Harsilla, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association, in an interview from his boat phone on the waters of Bristol Bay’s Naknek district on July 12. “It’s going to come in a little less than predicted. We have a lot of nice product. It may not be the volume that people were expecting, but it’s a lot of nice fish.”

Since the one and only big surge of the season, the run in Bristol Bay has slowed. The only constant has been the weather, which Harsilla described as one of the wettest, windiest seasons I can remember.”

On the morning of July 12, winds were blowing at 25 knots around King Salmon and a day earlier in Naknek, it was blowing 35-40 knots, with gusts to 50 knots, said Kodiak fisherman Shawn Dochtermann, like Harsilla a Bristol Bay salmon fishery veteran.

The fleet was hanging in there, however. As of July 12, there were 1,385 vessels registered for Bristol Bay, including 639 in the Naknek-Kvichak, 303 in the Ugashik, 269 in the Nushagak, 119 in Egegik (which has been closed for escapement since July 6), and 55 at Togiak. For July 14, Togiak remained at 55 vessels registered, while the numbers climbed in others districts, for a total of 1,430 vessels.

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