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Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run strong but below average

The sockeye salmon season is basically over in Bristol Bay, and in the Nushagak district fishermen are shifting over into a pink salmon fishery, according to Tim Sands of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham.

The baywide sockeye harvest was 20.5 million on Sunday, and is unlikely to reach 21 million. The season's catch is down compared to recent averages of 25 million, but not exceptionally low, Sands said.

District by district, the Naknek Kvichak was the top producer, at 10 million reds, more than double second-place Egegik's 4.9 million, with the Nushagak at 2. 6 million, and Ugashik at 2.4 million.

While the Togiak district's harvest was the lowest due to a smaller river and lake system at 457,449 reds, it is the home of Bristol Bay’s largest individual sockeyes, weighing on average an extra 1 to 1.5 pounds, Sands said.

Processors were paying fishermen $1 a pound for sockeye, the same as last year, according to Deckboss, a commercial fishing website based in Anchorage.

On Tuesday, the Nushagak salmon fishery was re-regulated for pinks, the smallest of the five species of Pacific salmon commercially harvested in Alaska. That was done by requiring nets with smaller holes, 4-and-one-quarter inches, compared to the 5-and-a-half-inch mesh size in effect for the sockeye season, said Sands.

Sands reported 200 drift boats and 60 setnetters signed up to catch Nushagak pinks.

Pinks could be the last directed salmon fishery, unless enough coho salmon, also known as silvers, swim upriver to the spawning grounds. But Sands said fish buyers aren't much interested in the silvers.

The industrial salmon fishery's disinterest in silvers can only be good news for the sportfishing industry, which prizes the silvers as a major attraction for affluent anglers from all over the world.

In the regulatory realm, the Alaska Board of Fisheries is devoting its December meeting to Bristol Bay issues, since it's the bay's turn in a three-year meeting cycle. The meeting is set for Dec. 4-12 at the Bristol Bay Borough School in Naknek.

This article originally appeared in The Bristol Bay Times and is reprinted here with permission.