Workers process Bristol Bay catch on a recent year. (Courtesy of SalmonState)

Workers process Bristol Bay catch on a recent year. (Courtesy of SalmonState)

Sockeye salmon catch total tops 2 billion

The first billionth sockeye was caught in 1981.

  • By Mary Catharine Martin The Salmon State
  • Wednesday, October 16, 2019 10:50pm
  • News

This year, during the fishery’s second-largest harvest on record, Bristol Bay commercial fishermen hit another historic number: the 2 billionth sockeye salmon caught by commercial fishermen since record-keeping began in the late 1800s.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast, but the last couple of seasons had huge returns,” said Nushagak/Togiak Area Management biologist Timothy Sands.

2019 was the fifth consecutive year that more than 50 million sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay.

In 2018, fishermen caught 41.9 million sockeye out of a record overall return of 62.3 million sockeye. In 2019, fishermen caught 43 million sockeye during a return of 56.5 million sockeye, meaning this year fishermen caught a higher percentage of the total return. (All rivers met their escapement goals — the amount of salmon swimming upriver necessary to ensure healthy future runs.)

2019 was also the most valuable all-salmon-species harvest. The preliminary exvessel value, or estimated dollar amount the harvest earned fishermen when they sold to a processor, is $306.5 million.

Some may remember Bristol Bay passing another “2 billion” marker in 2016. That was the 2 billionth overall salmon caught in the region.

The first billionth sockeye was caught in 1981 — the 98th year of Bristol Bay’s fishery. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC) points out that the 2 billionth sockeye came just 38 years later, which means that the size of the average harvest has been much bigger in recent years than it was at the start of the fishery. For the first 98 years, up to the first billionth sockeye caught, Bristol Bay’s average annual catch was a little more than 10 million fish per year. For the last 38 years, it’s been about 27 million sockeye per year.

“I think it just speaks to the sustainability of the management system we have in place in Bristol Bay that after 136 years of fishing, we’re still having record runs and we’re able to sustainably harvest 2 billion sockeye salmon from the systems in Bristol Bay,” Sands said.

Scientists who study the Bristol Bay’s salmon attribute a large part of the area’s productivity to its diverse “portfolio” of salmon systems: some rivers may do well one year while others do well the next, depending on conditions. Just like an investment portfolio, diversity leads to overall better returns.

“Credit healthy habitat and clean water for this remarkable story of sustainability,” said Norm Van Vactor, CEO of the BBEDC. “That, a strong, science-based state management system, and the cooperation of fishermen and processors accounts for this long-term success.”

Mary Catharine Martin is the communications director of SalmonState, a nonprofit initiative that works to ensure Alaska remains a place wild salmon thrive.


Mary Catharine Martin is the communications director of SalmonState, a nonprofit initiative that works to ensure Alaska remains a place wild salmon thrive.


More in News

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Soldotna man found dead in lake, troopers report

State Troopers were notified of a deceased person floating in Browns Lake

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID hospitalizations, cases down from last week

The state reported no new resident deaths from COVID-19 this week

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. building in Juneau is scheduled to be the site where the board of trustees will select a new executive director on Monday, following the investigation into the firing of former CEO Angela Rodell last December being presented to state lawmakers on Wednesday.
Investigators: Permanent Fund CEO’s firing legal but departed from policy

Trustees acted legally, despite not following official policy, and governor didn’t influence decision

A fishing boat passes the Silversea cruise ship Silver Wind as the boat enters the Homer Harbor on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Finding refuge

Silver Wind is one of two cruise ships to visit since pandemic.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidates Dil Uhlin, left, and Jesse Bjorkman participate in a candidate forum at the Soldotna Public Library on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. Both candidates are running for the assembly’s Nikiski seat. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Nikiski assembly candidates talk borough issues at final municipal election forum

There are three candidates running for the assembly’s District 3 - Nikiski seat

Kenai Middle School Principal Vaughn Dosko gestures toward a cart used to provide school lunch services on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Security concerns and lunch lines

Safety upgrades, more space sought at Kenai Middle

Soldotna Montessori Charter School Principal John DeVolld explains Montessori materials in a classroom at Soldotna Montessori Charter School on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Soldotna Montessori maxes out

The relocation of Soldotna Montessori is included in a bond package on the Oct. 4 municipal election ballot

Engineer Lake Cabin can be seen in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Nov. 21, 2021. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service announced Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, that $14.4 million of a larger $37 million package will be used to build cabins in the Chugach and Tongass National Forests. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Millions designated for cabins in Tongass, Chugach

$18 million is allocated to the construction and maintenance of cabins and historic buildings — of which $14.4 million is destined for Alaska

Puffin sits by a scratching tower in front of his main pad of buttons on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. Owner Geri Litzen says Puffin can communicate by pressing different buttons on the pad to form sentences. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Puffin with the buttons

Verbose Nikiski cat earns TikTok followers

Most Read