Bristol Bay Marks Record Run & Salmon Harvested

sockeye salmon
Photo courtesy of Milton Love, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara.

The 2022 inshore Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run of 79 million fish proved the largest inshore run on record, with harvesters delivering 60.1 million reds to processors, the largest harvest on record, with the preliminary exvessel value estimated at $351.7 million, data show.

According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists, the ex-vessel value —the price paid to harvesters—is based on major buyers’ base price and do not include future price adjustments for icing, bleeding, floating or production bonuses.

The run itself was 81% above the 43.6 million average run for the latest 20-year period (2002-2021), and was just the fourth time on record that the Bristol Bay inshore sockeye salmon run has exceeded 60 million fish, data show.

State fisheries biologists said all sockeye salmon escapement goals were met or exceeded, with a total bay-wide escapement of 18.9 million fish.  Preliminary harvest estimates for other salmon were 8,374 Chinook, 301,816 chum, 9,040 coho and 95,724 pink salmon.

Sockeye salmon harvests themselves were 104% higher than the recent 20-year average of 29.4 million for all districts. Sockeye escapement goals were exceeded on the Nushagak, Wood and Ugashik rivers, with all other systems within their respective escapement goal ranges. Overall run timing was one day early, making it the earliest since 2014.

Biologists said the sockeye run was dominated by 1.2 and 1.3 age classes, fish with one year of freshwater residence and two or three years of ocean growth The 1.3 age class was the largest component of the 2022 ran at roughly 53% and came in over the preseason forecast of 47%. Age 1.2 fish made up the next largest component of the run at 28%, below the forecasted 41%.

Fish with two years of freshwater resident (2.2s and 2.3s) made up most of the remaining age classes seen this year. The 2.2 return was 15%, almost double the preseason forecast of 8% and the 2.3 age class returned as forecasted at 3% of the total run.

The average weight for sockeyes was 5.1 pounds. slightly higher relative to recent years due to the high percentage of larger 1.3 age fish, but below the most recent 20-year average of 5.6 pounds. Chinooks harvested in Bristol Bay were incidentally caught during the directed sockeye fishing periods.

The Nushagak District, the main contributor of Chinook salmon in the bay, was actively managed to reduce Chinook salmon harvest in an effort to ensure achievement of the established escapement goal. The 2022 Chinook salmon harvests overall were below average in all districts, including the Nushagak, where the 5,325 kings caught were well below the 20-year average harvest of 34,260 fish.

Chum salmon harvests, preliminarily estimated at 301,816 fish, were below the recent 20-year average of 1.1 million fish.  Harvesters in the Nushagak, the largest producer of chum salmon in the Bay, brought in 172,069 fish.

The Nushagak River chum salmon escapement of 116,692 fish was below the lower bound sustainable escapement goal of 200,000 fish. 

The incidental harvest of pink salmon in the Bay totaled 95,724 fish, or 19% of the average harvest of pinks for the last decade. Pink salmon escapement was not enumerated in Bristol Bay in 2022. 

Coho harvests can be variable from year to year depending on processor availability, market conditions, and overall fishing effort. In 2022, fishing ended early due in part to weather and lack of processor interest.