June and July 2008 — It was a good year for permafrost in Bristol Bay this year, and the Bering Sea ice pack lingered longer than usual, which brought October-like (in Washington) weather to Naknek all summer.
This cold weather brought late-returning salmon as well. The cold seawater temperatures kept the run at sea a bit longer, which was fine with me because the Claude M Bristol was running late in the completion of its major preseason repairs.
Along with the late start came idle time for the fishermen, who chose to focus their attention on the price of fish, or lack thereof, and what they could do about it. As a show of solidarity, the fishermen of Nornak individually, yet collectively, decided to abstain from fishing during the free week, which ran until 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 22.
There were a couple of news reports about the effort, but nothing really came from it. Lets face it, there were no fish, so it was simply an opportunity for the fishermen to feel like they were actually doing something about the price. But they did show they have the ability to work together if need be.
We finally had our first opening on June 26, which was my brother Frankie's birthday; he probably had a happy day because there were a few fish around. ADF&G gave us one opening a day through Saturday, June 28, and then we started fishing every tide.
At this point the Kvichak River was behind on its escapement, and the fleet was required by regulation to be put into the Naknek River Special Harvest Area (a.k.a. the River). But this didn't happen because Slim, the Naknek area biologist, pulled a bold move and kept us fishing outside, betting the fish would show a couple days late, which has been the pattern over the past few years.
Slim's gamble paid off for him, because in the wee hours of the morning on July 1 the fish started pushing through in a big way. By the morning tide on July 3 just about every buyer in the bay had suspended buying fish from their fleets.
The fishermen were in an uproar. Guys were calling their representatives, the governor, the FTC and probably even the FBI. The fish continued to pour by as the fleet fished with processor-imposed catch limits on July 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, which was pretty much the whole peak of the run. The limits were usually set around 6,000 or 7,000 pounds per opening, and we caught our limit almost every time.
The smaller buyers like Bay Watch Fisheries really had some harsh limits, if they fished at all. They sat out for all of July 2 and 3, while the rest of the fleet was fishing, and when they did get to fish, their limits were pathetically low — like 3,000 pounds. By July 9 the run had slowed, and the binds of the limits were lifted; but by this time the opportunity to load your boat was pretty much gone as well.
This year the fish didn't come in over the Johnson Hill line as much as usual, but rather made a strong showing in the upper end of the district by Libbyville, Peterson Point, and the Y. I just stayed at the line and ground away, mostly because I hate driving all over hell on my slow boat, and plus Johnson Hill always pays the bills, so why mess with what works? But the fact remains that there were some really good shots of fish taken out of the northern part of the district while I was down scratching away at the line.
On July 14 they started opening the Kvichak district as well. Again, I pretty much stayed at the line, but having the larger area open made the line less crowded. On July 17 they opened up the entire district for fishing 24 hours a day. Of course there were hardly any fish around by then. Fishing got too slow for me shortly after, and I made my last delivery on July 19.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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