Long lines of homebound cannery workers crowded outside the doors of the King Salmon Airport is not an unusual sight. Except when it is as early as July 7.
And some area canneries reported not a single fish on July 4, historically one of the busiest days of the entire season.
Starting an unprecedented six days early, the 2013 Bristol Bay commercial sockeye salmon run peaked on June 30 and declined sharply by July 4.
The districts of Naknek/Kvichak and Ugashik on the east side of Bristol Bay have been closed since that date. The Egegik District opened once again on July 8 for commercial set and drift net fishing.
On the West Side of Bristol Bay, except for areas impacted by petroleum from the tender that sank in the Igushik River, commercial drift net fishing remains open daily until further notice.
"I don't think I've ever seen the tail end of the curve decline this steeply for a run in the bay," said Chuck Brazil, Bristol Bay area research biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "There was nothing in the season that indicated that it was going to drop off like it did."
Area biologists currently project the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run to come in at about 22.2 million with an estimated 14 million harvest. In 2012, the harvest was 20 million.
Escapement has a priority over harvest in order to ensure that sockeye salmon continue to be a renewable resource.
"In a small run, it is sometimes desirable to shoot for the low end of the escapement goal," said Egegik/Ugashik area biologist Paul Salomone. "The fishermen are responding pretty well. They understand what escapement means to their future."
This story originally appeared in the Bristol Bay Times and is republished here with permission.