The Bristol Bay Times
The Bristol Bay Times

Bristol Bay’s 2023 year in review

January started out with communities contending with an egg shortage, as an outbreak of avian flu in Washington state drastically slowed shipments north.

Slavii stars circulated around the region for Orthodox Christmas with some precautions in place to protect community members from the flu virus and Covid-19.

Dozens of people attended the Bristol Bay Native Corporation’s free online language classes in Yup’ik, Dena’ina and Alutiiq. The corporation also offered song and dance classes.

And at the end of the month, many in Bristol Bay saw a years-long effort validated with the Environmental Protection Agency vetoing the controversial Pebble Mine project.

In February, the Curyung Wellness Committee and the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Program held a two-day community healing event in Dillingham focusing on culture, knowledge and connection.

In Igiugig, students worked to served tasty drinks in a new café, located in the village’s airport. They earned money for their student government, helping them fund class trips and projects.


Longtime Bristol Bay Bureau School District superintendent Bill Hill announced his retirement and reflected on his decade in the role. During his time as superintendent, the district strengthened ties with regional organizations and saw through major renovations to its school building.

People in Bristol Bay received long-awaited clarity in a hunting regulation. Rural residents were legally able to “approach and pursue” wolves and wolverines on federal lands while hunting on a snowmachine, just so long as animals “were not shot from a moving machine.”

And in Dillingham, more than 240 community members signed a petition to keep Dillingham Elementary School principal Nick Tweet in the role. Tweet has originally been offered an office position funded through a federal grant but not a contract for his current position. Later in the month, Tweet was offered a contract to continue in the principal role.

In March, Dillinghamers celebrated the 65th annual Beaver Roundup with dozens of community events, including the outhouse race, snow machine drag races and a basketball tournament.

Only a month after the EPA’s Pebble Mine Veto another mining company, Stuy Mines, applied for a permit to explore the area’s hardrock. Bristol Bay tribes, fishermen, businesses and conservation groups reiterated their opposition to mining in the region.

Manokotak’s Shelby Nukwak-King represented the region at the Arctic Winter Games, an international competition with approximately 1700 competitors from around the world’s circumpolar north. Nukwak-King, 17 at the time, competed in volleyball. Her team placed second.

The statewide Board of Fisheries approved an action plan to help conserve Nushagak King Salmon. The plan curbed fishing time when larger sockeye runs were forecast. Fish processors indicated that they would not buy sac roe herring from Togiak’s fishery, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Game outlook. There was no commercial sac roe herring fishery in the area for the first time in decades.

Finally, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay organized a two-day sustainability summit where people from organizations around the region presented on topics like housing, culture and language revitalization, small business, climate change and fisheries.

April saw Dillingham School District struggling to hire teachers amidst the national teacher shortage.

A Russian volcano experienced its largest eruption in 60 years sending ash to Alaska and canceling flights throughout the region for several days.

Athletes from across the region competed in the Native Youth Olympics, and music students headed to Unalakleet for a regional music festival.

Alora Wassily, Trista Wassily and Harmony Larson, then seventh grade students, won the statewide Spirit of Youth award for their years-long efforts to change the name of a local creek that included a slur against Indigenous women. The new name, Amau Creek, was finalized in the Fall of 2022.

And finally, quick action from a Dillingham bush pilot saved a man’s life in a snow machine accident.

In May, music students in Bristol Bay performed in the All-State competition.

The US Department of Agriculture agreed to purchase nearly $120 million worth of Alaska sockeye and Pacific groundfish in an effort to ease the glut on the market.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus offered interim director Wanda Wahl the role permanently, ending a years-long search. Wahl, who accepted, was born and raised in Dillingham.

Longtime Dillingham Elementary School teacher Amy Ruby retired after 35 years. The school held a goodbye ceremony, thanking Ruby for her dedication with notes from students past and present.


Longtime educator and teacher Arnaq Esther Ilutsik, whose work in Yup’ik studies uplifted students throughout the region, retired. Ilutsik helped develop the Southwest Region School District’s entire K-12 curriculum for Indigenous culture and language. She also worked alongside Yugtun language instructors to create lessons on Yup’ik values in the classroom for everyone across the district.

Finally Aleutian Airways announced they would start flights between King Salmon and Anchorage.

The region’s fast-paced fishing season started in June, with KDLG welcoming fish reporters Corinne Smith, Jack Darrell and Jessie Sheldon. KDLG also said goodbye and thank you to New Director Izzy Ross.

The region suffered acute loss, grappling with 3 opioid overdoses within the span of a week. The overdoses sparked a community town hall meeting in Dillingham. More than one hundred people gathered in the school gym for the event, where community members spoke on the painful effects of drug and alcohol misuse in the region, and how to come together to overcome them.

Reporting high levels of toxins in razor clams in Chignik Lagoon and blue mussels in Sand Point, the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation issued an emergency harvest warning.

Dillingham’s aging harbor received $5 million from the state to put toward repairs.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that it had killed 99 bears and five wolves in a predator control effort to help boost numbers in the Mulchatna Caribou herd. The move sparked outcry from some conservationists, as they said research pointed to habitat and disease issues, not predators, as reasons for the herd’s decline.

Governor Mike Dunleavy halved the state’s proposed public school funding budget as inflation drove costs up for schools in the region and statewide. In Dillingham, the city council approved a budget increase for the school district for the first time in a decade.


July brought abundant sockeye catches and heavy clouds over the region. The Curyung Tribe partnered with Net Your Problem and Rugged Seas to recycle net web waste and PVC rain gear, respectively, saving thousands of pounds of plastic material from finding its way into the region’s waters and landfill.

After years of planning and work from the Curyung Tribal council, construction started on paving the Nerka subdivision in Dillingham.

The region welcomed seafood processing workers from around the world, in part due to a temporary work visa program.

Sockeye returned to the region bigger and older, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A history project on Naknek’s Diamond NN cannery won a national award from the American Association for State and Local History. The award recognizes the project and its people, who worked to show the culture of the region’s processing industry.

A man from New Stuyahok went missing near the village of Ekwok. Community members, search teams and Alaska State Troopers began a multi-week search. The man’s body was recovered in August.

The Dillingham Landfill overflowed, in part due to issues with equipment and staffing. The City of Dillingham began work to stop the spill of garbage on the landfill access road.

Dillingham’s historic Bureau of Indian Affairs school building, which was serving as a city storage facility, closed its doors for the final time. Acting City Manager Kimberly Johnson said that problems within the building show evidence of structural movement.

Finally, fishing crews gathered on the Naknek River to peacefully protest the historic-low base price announced by processors – 50 cents per pound for their sockeye – and what they called a lack of transparency.

Kicking off August, the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Program hosted a two-day event. Community members gathered for activities and exercises that focused on topics like the science of addiction, historic trauma, Yup’ik community structure, and recovery.

The Nushagak Cooperative began offering unlimited internet, replacing their 400 gigabytes per month plan.

The Dillingham City School District received money they earmarked for a hydroponic tank so the district could start growing its own greens.


Finally, the region suffered the loss of two Dillingham community members after a double homicide. Police arrested a suspect a few days after the tragedy.

September brought cool nights and a bright orange tundra.

KDLG published a story on an ongoing initiative by two Igiugig tribal stewards. Bill Kane and Mary Hostetter’s work gives agency to tribal communities as they collect data on their land. It won an Edgewalker Prize.

Former News Director Izzy Ross published an in-depth feature on the Qayassiq walrus hunt, exploring how tribal leaders fought to regain access to the area and created a model for communities to act as equal management partners.

A new after-school program offered elementary school students in Dillingham literacy, STEM, art and Yup’ik culture lessons.

Resignations forced Dillingham’s jail to close. The city worked to correct issues with the jail’s condition.


Both the Dillingham City School District and Southwest Region School District closed schools after receiving a bomb threat. The threat came in the form of an email and was sent to districts across the state.

The federal government indicted the suspect in August’s double homicide on separate charges. The suspect is accused of cyberstalking and threatening a Florida county sheriff.

With October came the region’s elections. KDLG spoke to several school board and council candidates about their goals and why they were running.

Dillingham saw significant progress in cleaning up its landfill. The landfill had new staff members and equipment.

Many of the region’s bears competed in Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week. Bear 128 – Grazer – was crowned champion.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported 19 cases of avian flu in Dillingham. Biologists found 19 infected common murres, the second highest number of cases in Alaska after the Eastern Aleutians.

Dillingham’s girls cross country team won the state title for the first time, prompting celebration.

Finally, the region suffered another loss when a young Togiak woman went missing on the Nushagak River. Community members and the Alaska State Troopers searched by ground, air and water. After two weeks, the Troopers stopped their active search, sparking criticism.

The year’s late fall extended into November. The City of Dillingham demolished its historic Bureau of Indian Affairs school building.

The Dillingham school district continued its wait for four international teachers. The teachers, all from the Philippines, were meant to arrive in September but were held up due to slow Visa processing.

Set net fishers in the region voted ‘no’ to joining the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association by a narrow margin.

A Dillingham fifth grader won a national art award for artists with Rare Diseases. Seth Bailey’s self-portrait raised awareness of infantile spasms and how they can impact a baby’s brain.

The Sand Point Eagles came out on top at the region’s volleyball tournament held in Dillingham. Dillingham’s Lady Wolverines finished second in the region. Both teams went on to compete at the state championship where the Lady Wolverines won an academic award.

Alaska’s Department of Public Safety visited Dillingham to learn more about the region’s issues, including drug trafficking.

H. Robin Samuelsen Jr., the founding chair of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, stepped down from the role. Gerda Kosbruk of Port Heiden, a long-time board member, took his place as the new Chair.

Community members in Manokotak had the opportunity to take road tests and receive Real IDs in their home community for the first time ever. A Mobile DMV unit traveled to the region through work from community members, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation and the State of Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles.

Finally, students from across Bristol Bay learned life savings skills. The Bristol Bay Regional Career Technical Education Program and Southwest Alaska Area Health Center at the Alaska Pribilof Islands Association put on a week-long intensive training for students interested in health care. It culminated in a mass-casualty incident drill.

Now it’s December. The days are short, the snow is getting deeper, and communities across Bristol Bay are celebrating the holidays.

The Dillingham Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation detonated explosives at the landfill as part of a planned maneuver. The explosives were seized as part of a federal investigation.

Researchers presented early findings on the Nushagak Cooperative’s hydroelectricity project. Research on the facility’s potential impact will continue in 2024.

Wrestlers from across Bristol Bay competed in the regional and state championship after a season of hard work. The Bristol Bay Borough High School girls team took home their first ever regional championship and Dillingham wrestler Dylan McCambly became a state champion.

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association announced its executive director, Andy Wink, was stepping down.

Finally, the community of Manokotak issued a state of emergency declaration after a storm caused much of the community to lose electricity for more than a week.

Thank you to all the reporters and staff who contributed to KDLG this year: Izzy Ross, Corinne Smith, Jack Darrell, Jessie Sheldon and Christina McDermott, our summer volunteer Mark McKeown, our summer interns, and General Manager Sam Gardner.