NAKNEK, Alaska — Record-breaking numbers of sockeye salmon have returned to southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and the tally is expected to climb higher in the days ahead.
As of Thursday, fishing crews caught 53.325 million fish since the beginning of the run, which far outpaces the previous record catch of 44.3 million set in 1995.
Bristol Bay sustains the largest sockeye runs in North America. Hundreds of Washington fishers hold permits allowing them, and their crews, to participate in the harvest at a time when many commercial salmon fisheries in the Northwest have been in long-term decline.
On Thursday alone, more than 1,700 drift gill net fishermen, along with beach-based fishers using set nets, caught 2.36 million sockeye, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game statistics.
The total sockeye run, which includes salmon netted by fishing crews and those that have moved into freshwater areas en route to spawning, reached 69.76 million fish as of Thursday. This shatters a record set just last year of 67.67 million fish.
Salmon processors in the Bristol Bay region have largely kept pace with the huge harvest as their workers, many on 16-hour shifts, produce headed and gutted fish, fillets, roe and other products.
Much of that product is shipped to market in Seattle and elsewhere in freezer containers, and a shortage of vans may soon limit how many fish can be harvested.
The Bristol Bay harvest typically peaks in early July. This year, two weeks into July, the harvest has continued strong.
Alaska Marine Lines, a subsidiary of Lynden Inc., notified processors that it and other marine transportation companies may run out of containers before the end of the harvest, according to a statement released Friday by the company.