Fresh sockeye salmon, also called red salmon, is on sale on July 19 at Anchorage’s New Sagaya City Market. The Bristol Bay region, site of the world’s biggest sockeye salmon runs, had a record harvest last year, but Western Alaska villages suffered from poor returns of Chinook and chum salmon and, in some places, silver salmon. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
For Alaska salmon fishing, the summer of 2022 is the best of times and the worst of times.
In the Bristol Bay region, the sockeye salmon run and harvest amounts set new records, as was predicted in the preseason forecast. As of Monday, the run had totaled over 73.7 million, with a harvest of over 56.3 million. The previous record was set just last year, with a 67.7 million run of sockeyes and a third-biggest-ever harvest of nearly 42 million of the fish.
But along the Yukon River, a prized salmon run is heading toward a worst-ever season.
The number of Chinook counted by sonar while swimming up the river at Pilot Station, a village near the Bering Sea coast, was the lowest on record for this time of the year, the department said. Things are looking grim for the rest of the summer, Fish and Game said in its most recent update; “the drainage-wide run may be under 50,000 fish, which is so small that escapement goals may not be met in any tributaries,” the update said. Chinook fishing has been closed all along the river and its drainages.
The chum salmon run, which starts in the late summer, is also looking grim and “is anticipated to be critically low,” meaning that even subsistence harvests will be closed for at least the start of the fall season, the department said.
Fisheries activists are pointing to both cases as evidence supporting protective measures, for which they are campaigning.
Opponents of the controversial Pebble Mine say two consecutive years of record sockeye runs demonstrate the value of protecting the Bristol Bay watershed, site of the world’s biggest sockeye runs, from that proposed development. They are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to invoke a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act to preclude any wetlands-fill permit for the mine.
“In a crisis, we cannot wait for more research to be done.” – Serena Fitka, executive director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, in an email about the collapse of Yukon salmon runs
“In a crisis, we cannot wait for more research to be done.”
– Serena Fitka, executive director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, in an email about the collapse of Yukon salmon runs
Several groups have requested a meeting with Gov. Mike Dunleavy to discuss the run failures in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim regions. Such a meeting had not yet been scheduled as of Monday, said Serena Fitka, executive director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, one of the 16 groups making that request. And so far, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has not put stricter bycatch rules in place, she noted. “In a crisis, we cannot wait for more research to be done,” she said by email.
Farther north in western Alaska, salmon fishing is underway in the Norton Sound and Kotzebue regions, according to the Department of Fish and Game.
In Norton Sound, the harvest to date has been dominated by pink salmon, a species becoming more plentiful in recent years in farther-north waters. Of the more than 93,500 salmon harvested as of mid-July, about 81 percent were pinks, according to the department figures.
The Kotzebue-area salmon harvest as of mid-July was 14,803 salmon, with chum salmon accounting for almost all of that, according to the department. The Kotzebue-area chum catch as of mid-July was triple the cumulative harvest there at the same time last year, according to the department.
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