As salmon season gets underway, behind the scenes with the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report

Many Kodiak fishers spend the summer salmon season around the archipelago. But many others also head to Bristol Bay to harvest sockeye. KMXT Reporter Brian Venua is from Dillingham and previously reported for KDLG’s Bristol Bay Fisheries Report. He was in town visiting family last week, and stopped by the station to talk to Bristol Bay Fisheries Report Director Corinne Smith, for an update on how the season is going on the other side of the Alaska Peninsula. 

Listen to the interview here:

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Drift fishing vessels in the Dillingham Boat Harbor at low tide, June 29. 2023. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity

Brian Venua: Last year was this huge, unprecedented run of fish but it looks like this year is actually pretty similar to the previous record, which was two years ago in 2021. Would you mind telling us how it’s been compared to the averages or how that year was? What does it look like? 

Corinne Smith: Yeah, so this year in Bristol Bay is very different and I think each season sort of starts that way. Last year was a booming year – some people I talked to called it a double boom year – it was 79 million salmon returning to Bristol Bay. That’s 80% above the 20-year average. It was just absolutely incredible and unheard of. 

So far we’re seeing the run come in a bit slower. There’s been some days of closed fishing around the bay, and I think people are getting kind of antsy, honestly. They’re sort of expecting fish to come in around the Fourth of July. 

So this year’s forecast is more comparable to 2021, which was less of a booming year and the pace compared to this time in 2021 is down a bit but the numbers are coming back in the Port Moeller test fisheries. They are expecting to see that run pick up sort of around Fourth of July and biologists are pretty confident that the run will be strong this year. 

A tender delivering salmon from the fleet to Peter Pan’s processing plant in Dillingham, June 25. 2023. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

BV: And speaking of the biologists, what have they been saying? Have the Nushagak openers been a little bit delayed to try and save some of those kings? 

CS: This year has been a big focus on the Nushagak District and kings have been declining there. They have not made escapement goals five of the last six years so this year, the board of fish made several regulatory changes in an attempt to delay commercial fishing in the Nushagak to allow more kings to return upriver. 

This is pretty unprecedented and new for Bristol Bay, but they delayed that opener for sockeye until a certain escapement threshold was met, which was actually on June 26. It was a tradeoff commercial fishermen delayed fishing in the Nushagak to allow more kings to escape upriver. It’s a big investment in conservation of kings and they’re hoping it will be successful – we have yet to see how many have escaped and if those escapements will be made but it’s a big change for the Nushagak this year. 

Boats lined up before an opener in the Dillingham Boat Harbor, June 25, 2023. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

BV: The talk of the fleet every year is just always going to be the base prices. I know that we can’t have the official prices until whenever they put those out, whether that’s before season, like Peter Pan did the last couple of years or at the end of the season, which kind of became the more traditional thing. There’s tons of speculation – is there any range of rumors that you’ve heard of that you are willing to share with us here? 

CS: Right, it is all rumors, still nothing official has been announced, which was a change from the past two years. Like you said, Peter Pan seafoods announced a base price, which fishing crews were very happy about just to have a sort of gauge on the season But this year, they have not announced a price. People are very frustrated and concerned that it’s because it’s going to be dramatically lower. Economists are pointing to the massive harvest last year sort of flooding the market and retailers are still working on selling that off in markets around the US and worldwide. So given the supply is higher, they say demand will be lower. We have our sources and our ear to the ground on that but no official price yet.

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