State biologists studying the nine river systems of the Bristol Bay watershed are predicting a run of 26.03 million sockeye salmon in 2013, with a forecast range of 17.30-34.76 million fish, and a harvest of 16.6 million reds.
That compares with a 2012 forecast for a run of 32.30 million fish, with a forecast range of 23.17-41.42 million reds, and a harvest of 21.76 million fish.
"It is what it is," said Bob Waldrop, director for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. "We're used to these cycles. It's like the weather. There is very little we can do about it."
Still, it's not a disheartening situation. "We are fortunate to have the abundance that we have," he said.
"Fishermen are always willing to stand down for reasons of conservation. That's why we have had 130 years of commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay."
Norm Van Vactor, a processor veteran of the Bristol Bay fisheries, agreed.
While the last couple of years have demonstrated that the fishery is on the backside of the mountain for a while, Van Vactor, the general manager of Leader Creek Fisheries, expects the sockeye runs to begin rebuilding in two or three more years.
Processors, said Van Vactor, are eternally optimistic, and Leader Creek, with processing facilities at Naknek, will be geared for the biggest days of the run in 2013 just like in years past, he said.
The harvest for 2012, in fact, yielded a preliminary total of 20.8 million reds, plus 910,000 pink, 477,000 chum, 110,000 coho and 17,000 kings, for an overall Bristol Bay harvest of 22.3 million fish.
For the Copper River district, the preliminary catch total showed a harvest of 1.8 million sockeyes, plus 47,000 silvers, 29,000 chum, 12,000 Chinook and 6,000 pink salmon, for an overall harvest of 1.9 million fish. Statewide, the multi-million dollar wild salmon harvesters brought in a preliminary total of more than 117 million fish, including 63,203,000 pink, 35,163,000 sockeye, 16,719,000 chum, 2,057,000 silver and 255,000 kings.
The Bristol Bay sockeye forecast released Nov 26 is the sum of predictions for the Kvichak, Alagnak, Naknek, Egegik, Ugashik, Wood, Igushik, Nushagak-Mulchatna and Togiak rivers, and four age classes: 1.2, 1.3, 2.2 and 2.3, plus ages 0.3 and 1.4 for th Nushgak River. Adult escapement and return data from brood years 1972 through 2009 were also used in the analyses.
The 2013 prediction is 33 percent lower than the previous 10-year mean of total runs: 39.06 million fish, with a range of 24.1 million to 46.60 million fish, and 20 percent lower than the long-term mean of 32.38 million fish. State biologists said all systems are expected to meet their spawning escapement goals.
The projected harvest includes 16.59 million fish in Bristol Bay and 0.94 million fish in the South Peninsula fisheries. Biologists said a Bristol Bay harvest of 16.59 million sockeyes would be 40 percent lower than the previous 10-year mean harvest: 27.63 million fish, with a range of 17.22 million to 32.01 million fish, and 20 percent lower than the long-term mean of 20.67 million fish.
The run forecast by district and river system is as follows:
Naknek-Kvichak District: 10.61 million sockeyes, including 5.08 million to the Kvichak River, 2.08 million to the Alagnak River, 3.46 million to the Naknek River.
Egigik District: 6.06 million sockeyes
Ugashik District: 3.53 million sockeyes
Nushagak District, 5.25 million sockeyes, including 3.42 million to Wood River, 1.31 million to the Nushgak River, and 0.52 million to the Igushik River
Togiak District: 0.59 million sockeyes
Biologists said the total run forecast of 26.03 million sockeyes into Bristol Bay is expected to be comprised of 10.12 million age 1.3 fish, 6.38 million age 2.2 fish, 6.10 million age 1.2 fish, 3.37 million age 2.3 fish, 0.044 million age 1.4 fish and 0.015 million age 0.3 million fish.
Even though there is a large amount of variability around the forecast to the individual rivers, the overall Bristol Bay forecasts have been fairly accurate since 2001, biologists said.
The preceding report was first published in The Cordova Times and is republished here with permission.