Did you know that the Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world? It’s located in southwestern Alaska and has six major river basins. The two largest are the Nushagak River—also known as ‘Nush’—and the Kvichak River. Together, they compose about 50% of the total watershed area. The other four river basins are the Togiak River, Naknek River, Egegik River, and the Ugashik River. Combined, these waterways are key in supporting sockeye salmon.
The Bristol Bay region is also home to numerous other animals, including 29 fish species, over 190 different types of birds, and more than 40 earthbound mammals. Chief among these resources is the world-class commercial and sport fishery for Pacific salmon. The watershed includes all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America: sockeye, coho, Chinook, chum, and pink. For us, harvesting sockeye salmon is the most successful and plentiful in the region.
Bristol Bay has a true claim to wild salmon as there aren’t any hatchery fish raised or released in the watershed. In essence, these fish are anadromous —meaning, they hatch and rear in freshwater systems, migrate to the sea to grow into adults, and return to freshwater systems to spawn and eventually pass away.
Like we previously mentioned, the most abundant salmon species in the watershed is sockeye salmon. Evidently, Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world; it contains over 45% of the global myriad of wild sockeye salmon! According to the EPA, between 1990 and 2010, the yearly average upstream sockeye salmon run in Bristol Bay was approximately 37.5 million fish. The annual commercial harvest of sockeye salmon—over that same period of time—averaged 27.5 million, with half of the sockeye salmon production coming from the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers.
In the Bristol Bay region, salmon composes an average of 52% of the subsistence harvest. Subsistence from all sources (fish, moose, and other wildlife) accounts for an average of 80% of the protein ingested by the surrounding area’s residents.
This goes without saying, but exploring the Bristol Bay area (by land or by sea) is the best way to fully digest its sprawling landscape and unique ecosystem. Whether you come for its natural beauty or for the 2018 salmon season, it’s an experience of a lifetime.