Record Catch of Bristol Bay Sockeyes in High Retail Demand

sockeye salmon
Two sockeye salmon swimming in different directions. Photo courtesy of Milton Love, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Soaring harvests of Bristol Bay’s famed wild sockeyes salmon run leaped by millions of pounds a week in July, as eager consumers were placing individual orders of up to 30 pounds each, while freezer container supplies ran low.

Bristol Bay preliminary commercial harvest data posted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game jumped from nearly 47 million to 57 million fish between July 12 and July 19, while the statewide harvest rose from nearly 69 million to 89 million salmon. Fishermen in the Nushagak District alone caught over two million sockeyes that week, bringing their catch total to nearly 23 million salmon, ADF&G data show.

The robust harvest vastly exceeded expectations and the availability of freezer containers. Maritime transport company Alaska Marine Lines notified fish processors in Bristol Bay that it and other marine transportation companies might run out of containers prior to the end of the season due to a historically large sockeye salmon harvest.

To help accommodate this tremendous harvest and mitigate a potential container shortage, Alaska Marine implemented an allocation plan to distribute the remaining and arriving containers to allow processors time to plan for the run’s end, AML’s Ryan Dixon said.

As processors scrambled to move some of their catch to other processing facilities in the state, retail customers from Seattle to Anchorage were eagerly ordering those sockeyes to go at shops and online too, to eat, freeze and smoke.

“A lot of people are smoking them,” said Tito Marquez of 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage, where orders were averaging 20-30 pounds of whole salmon at $6.95 a pound. Fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, where the sockeyes were selling for $29.99 a pound, said their orders were averaging 20 pounds.

10th & M Seafoods also had wild Alaska sockeye fillets for $14.95 a pound, sockeye steaks at $7.95 a pound, king salmon fillets for $26.95 a pound and king salmon steaks for $21.95 a pound.

At New Sagaya, another popular seafood market in Anchorage, whole sockeyes were $7.99 a pound for whole fish averaging four pounds each, and $17.99 a pound for fillets. Bristol Bay sockeyes were also going for $10.95 a pound at Fred Meyer supermarkets and $12.95 a pound at Carrs-Safeway stores.

The statewide harvest for statistical week 29 showed the year-to-date harvest of sockeyes alone was up 37% over a year ago.

Preliminary ADF&G data showed the salmon harvest rising from 927,000 to 1.6 million fish at Kodiak; from 8.6 million to 9.1 million fish in the Alaska Peninsula and 11.4 million to 19.4 million fish in Prince William Sound.

There has been no commercial salmon harvest in Alaska’s Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, where ADF&G banned any commercial or subsistence catches do to extremely low salmon runs.