Bristol Bay's red salmon harvest is likely to surge

Laine Welch

The Bristol Bay red salmon catch is nearing 20 million fish and will likely go higher, the result of a strong run of more than 30 million fish. Reds were still surging into the region's five big rivers and should serve to boost the harvest beyond the forecast of nearly 22 million fish.

With so many salmon fisheries every summer all across Alaska, you might wonder why so much attention is focused on Bristol Bay. The answer is sockeye salmon.

Bristol Bay rivers are home to the largest red salmon runs in the world. Sockeye are by far Alaska's most valuable salmon fishery; well over one-third (sometimes as much as half) of the state's total salmon fishing earnings come from Bristol Bay. The bay also has the most fishermen, with more than 2,800 salmon permit holders.

Where other fishing regions -- Copper River, Prince William Sound, Southeast, Kodiak, Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula -- might get sockeye catches ranging from 1 million to 5 million fish, Bristol Bay's harvests typically fall into the 20 million to 40 million range.

Here's how it stacks up in terms of value, based on the 2011 season:

Last year's dockside value of Alaska's total salmon catch was $603 million, the third-best ever. King salmon rang in at just more than $20 million, silvers were worth $23.4 million, chums topped $93 million and pink salmon had a value just over $170 million.

Here's the biggie: Alaska's sockeye catch was worth $296 million at the docks last year, on a catch of nearly 40 million fish. More than half the sockeyes came from Bristol Bay.


In addition to salmon ... fisheries for halibut and sablefish are still under way in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.

Nearly half of the permitted 24 million-pound halibut limit has been caught. About 12 million pounds remain in the sablefish (black cod) quota of just more than 29 million pounds.

Alaska's scallop fisheries, from Yakutat to the Bering Sea, opened July 1. Pollock and cod are summer fisheries.

The Bering Sea squid fishery has almost reached its nearly 800,000-pound quota.

And the Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery will open Aug. 15 with a quota topping 6 million pounds.


Find tickets for the three-day Salmonstock festival, Aug. 3 to 5 in Ninilchik. For more information, go to

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact

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