Bristol Bay sockeye harvest breaking records as other districts suffer

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — The Nushugak District in Bristol Bay is experiencing an all-time record harvest of sockeye salmon as other districts across Alaska suffer poor returns.

"Last year the Nushagak set an all-time record of 12.3 million fish for the year, I just got off the phone [on Friday] with the manager and he expects that record to be broken today," said Art Nelson, a spokesperson for commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "And there are more fish to come."

Other districts across Alaska have been struggling with poor sockeye harvests.

Copper River commercial fishermen haven't been able to fish since May 28 pushing those fishermen to focus their attention to Prince William Sound.

"With the Copper River closed that makes those districts pretty crowded," said Nelson.

Recently though Fish and Game reports that there have been strong sockeye returns above expectations on the Copper River, leading officials to hope that commercial and sport fishing could reopen soon.

In Kodiak, the news has been dire, the district manager told Nelson that Kodiak "is experiencing the worst sockeye harvest in 40 years" but that it is meeting its escapement needs for the most part.

In Chignik, Nelson said the early sockeye run "was a failure" and there has been no commercial fishing yet for the season. "I don't think they had a big forecast this year but it came in significantly less."

The failure for Chignik, Copper River and Kodiak fishermen has helped Bristol Bay.

Nelson says Nushagak commercial fishing vessels in the past have been limited by how much they can catch due to the operating capacities of processing plants.

"A lot of times when they get a million fish a day, day after day, the processors can get overloaded and they have to put the fishermen on limits," said Nelson. "Because the other districts aren't firing yet that's allowed them to stay on top of the harvest in the Nushagak District for the most part."