A million salmon caught in a day isn't unheard of in the wildly productive Bristol Bay commercial fishery, but for one district it proved to be a record. Whether the early bonanza is a harbinger of a strong season, though, remains to be seen.
Commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay's Nushagak district caught a little over 1 million prized sockeye salmon Monday, the largest single-day catch in the Nushagak fishery. Typically, Bristol Bay catches peak around July 4.
While million-plus days have happened in other Bristol Bay fisheries, they're rarely seen in the Nushagak, a smaller fishery than the Naknek-Kvichak district to the east. The bay, considered the premier red salmon fishery in the country, is divided into five management districts based on the nine major river systems in the region.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Biologist Tim Sands said the previous record for the most sockeye caught in a single day in the Nushagak district came in 2000 when 980,000 reds were landed by commercial fishermen. Before that 912,000 sockeye had been caught in 1981.
Janis Harsila, manager of the Bristol Bay Fishermen's Association, said some fishermen in the district are optimistic they might have one their best years ever.
"I think it's great for the Nushagak fishermen," she said. "Everyone's happy."
The large run has pushed the Nushagak over the high end of its 900,000 escapement goal with more than a million fish counted at the Portage Creek sonar. As a result, managers doubled the sport fishing daily bag limit to 10 sockeyes a day.
Sands said it's unclear whether the large commercial haul marks an early run or strong sockeye run this season. The Nushagak has a forecast return of 8 million fish this year, and so far more than 5 million have made it back to the bay. Typically, the run continues through July.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists estimated Bristol Bay would see a return of 41.5 million reds this year, which is close to the 10-year average harvest for the fishery.
He said this year's run was particularly well-timed for fishermen since other districts weren't catching as much, making it easier for processors to deal with the influx.
"We're off to a good start," Sands said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said fewer than 3,000 kings have passed the Nushagak River sonar site, with an estimated 22 percent of the run finished. As of June 30, over 34,000 kings have passed the sonar.