Bristol Bay commercial sockeye catch below forecast so far

Elizabeth Bluemink

Unlike the sportsmen targeting Nushagak River king salmon, the commercial fishermen targeting Bristol Bay sockeye salmon are having a decent year.

Though commercial seafood processors complain that the sockeye harvest is slow and may potentially come in under forecast, state biologists still expect a healthy harvest of roughly 25 million to 27 million Bristol Bay salmon this year.

Late last year, the state had predicted a harvest of nearly 32 million Bristol Bay sockeye.

"We're above forecast in some systems and below forecast in others," said Dan Gray, the regional commercial fisheries management coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"They seem to be coming into the bay a little slower and a little more spread out," he said.

The Nushagak is one of the five major Bristol Bay river systems.

Over the last 15 years, the Bristol Bay sockeye catch has averaged about 23 million fish, according to the state Division of Commercial Fisheries. The average for the last five years has been higher: 28 million sockeye.

Gray said the bay's commercial fishermen have been catching roughly 1 million sockeye per day with a few exceptions. "We could be catching fish at this rate for some time to come," he said.

But Greg Blakey, co-owner of Snopac Products Inc., is concerned because he and other Bristol Bay processors had expected more fish by now. Family-owned Snopac has a 337-foot floating processor near Naknek and a land-based plant in Dillingham. The company tripled its processing capacity at Dillingham this year. "We geared up this year to make sure fishermen were not (limited). We were hoping to use it," he said.

On the plus side, "One thing we have this year is very nice fish," Blakey said. The quality of the sockeye harvest has improved because more fishermen are using ice to keep the fish cold, he said.

"The quality is heads and shoulders above what it was in this business 28 years ago," he said.

The Bristol Bay red salmon harvest is the state's largest commercial salmon fishery, worth an estimated $128 million last year -- more than one-third of the total value of Alaska's commercial salmon catch, according to state figures.

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at or call 257-4317.