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Bristol Bay sockeye salmon harvest slightly ahead of last year

The next two weeks will be critical in gauging the strength of the world's most important wild salmon harvest.

The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run is on track with preseason predictions, which means fishermen would bring in nearly the same catch as last year's strong season if forecasts stay on track.

Data from the Port Moller test fishery, which experts say typically is a good indicator of run strength, shows most major districts in Alaska's key Bristol Bay region are meeting escapement goals. Port Moller is a migration pathway for salmon headed to Bristol Bay.

As of July 1, the Wood and Nushagak rivers have already met the lower end of their escapement goals, Tyler Dann, a fisheries geneticist with Fisheries Geneticist with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG), told IntraFish.

"The Egegik and Naknek rivers are well on their way to meeting theirs," he said.

Genetic results from Port Moller this year are showing large abundances of Egegik, Wood and Nushagak river sockeye, which is matching salmon observed inshore in Bristol Bay, he said.

The prediction of 40.2 million fish total for the Bristol Bay run remains fairly accurate, according to ADFG. The catch would be just below last year's harvest of 41.3 million fish.

The run, however, is around two to three days late as of Wednesday and remains slightly smaller than last year, Gregory Buck, a fishery biologist and regional research coordinator with ADFG, told IntraFish.

Bristol Bay's sockeye harvest has so far been hitting above last year as well, McDowell Group Economist Garrett Evridge told IntraFish.

Sockeye volume is up 5 percent from 2018 and 10 percent above the five-year average, according to a report from McDowell. In an average year, more than half of Alaska’s sockeye harvest occurs in Bristol Bay during the first three weeks of July.

"In a typical season, about 4.5 million sockeye have been harvested by this point in the season. With about 7 million fish caught so far in 2019, we are ahead of the typical pace," he said.

Nearly 23 million salmon have been harvested in Alaska as of June 29 with sockeye and pink each contributing about 42 percent of the total, according to Evridge.

In an update on July 3 figures, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in King Salmon said the Naknek River escapement was 59,000 for a cumulative of total of 614,000, while the Kvichak River escapement was 5,000 for an overall total of 34,000.

The Kvichak in-river estimate is 10,000. Harvest on July 3 was an estimated 400,000 for a cumulative total of 2 million. There are 303 vessels registered to fish in the district.

In Egegik - Harvest on July 3 was 481,000 for a cumulative harvest of 3.7 million fish. Escapement on July 3 was 76,000 for a cumulative escapement of 623,000 fish.

In Ugashik – Escapement for July 3 was 5,000 for a cumulative total of 17,000 fish.

Wood River escapement was 78,000 on July 3 and 13,000 at 6:00 am on July 4 for a cumulative total of 1.03 million.

Nushagak sockeye salmon escapement was 23,500 on July 3 for a cumulative total of 428,000. Nushagak king salmon escapement was 46 on July 3 for a cumulative total of 37,100 fish.

Harvest in the Nushagak District was 692,000 sockeye salmon on July 3 for a cumulative total of 7.1 million and 288 king salmon for a cumulative total of 17,100. There are currently 821 permits and 624 vessels registered for the Nushagak District.

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