This year, it’s complicated. Fishermen and other Alaska salmon stakeholders have some good reasons to celebrate of the fifth annual Wild Alaska Salmon Day on Tuesday, Aug. 10. But in some regions, the fleets are weighing their worries now that they’re just past the midpoint of the summer salmon season.

Overall, the state is seeing some bright spots in returns of pink, sockeye and silver salmon. But the success stories are stratified.

Both Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound are celebrating a big year.

As of the end of July, the Prince William Sound fleet had landed a 123 percent increase in pink salmon over the 2019 harvest (pinks tend to boom every other year), and sockeye, chum, silver and king returns were all up over the 2020 harvest. Though the bar was set low last year, healthy returns across the board are a welcome change after a downward trend over the last several seasons.

Not only is the Bristol Bay’s salmon return a significant record, closing in on 66 million fish (the last record was just under 63 million, set in 2018), but the base price is nothing to sneeze at either, coming out of the gates strong at $1.10 on a promise from Peter Pan Seafoods, and leaping up to $1.25, spurred by OBI Seafoods. That’s up from a covid-induced low of 70 cents last year.

“This is natural abundance on a truly epic scale,” Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said of the record. “These records aren’t being set while overfishing. All escapement goals were met to propagate strong future runs.”

With the season now winding down, some Bristol Bay leaders are hoping the spotlight on a record-setting and sustainable fishery will help them get permanent protections from the threat of mine development in the region.

“Bristol Bay’s record-breaking salmon run this summer highlights the need to protect one of the last places where wild salmon not only survive, but thrive,” said Katherine Carscallen, executive director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “We are urgently asking President Biden to keep his promise to stop the toxic Pebble Mine and stand up for the tens of thousands of Americans whose jobs and way of life depend on Bristol Bay’s pristine water and wild salmon.”

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 16 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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