Bristol Bay 2023 salmon recap – Value to fishermen down 37% of 10 year average

Sockeye harvest higher than average; chums, coho, Chinook catches below average.

by | September 28, 2023

Sockeye run 10% above forecast; all districts exceeded projections

Preliminary data from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game for the 2023 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon season shows a run of 54.5 million fish was the 8th largest inshore run since 2003 and was 17% above the 46.7 million average run for the latest 20-year period (2003–2022).

The 2023 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run was 10% above the preseason inshore forecast of 49.7 million fish. Runs to every district were larger than their preseason forecasts. All sockeye salmon escapement goals were met or exceeded, with a total bay-wide escapement of 13.9 million fish

The commercial harvest of 40.6 million sockeye salmon was 11% above the 36.6 million preseason forecast The preliminary harvest estimates for other species are 9,512 Chinook, 342,905 chum, 15,561 coho, and 3,142 pink salmon.

Value to fishermen tanks

Exvessel value of salmon caught in Bristol Bay in 2023 was estimated using the fish ticket weight, and price paid for each species. The 2023 Bristol Bay preliminary exvessel value of $117.4 million for all salmon species was 37% below the 20-year average of $187.6 million. Prices are based on the major buyers’ base price and do not include future price adjustments for icing, bleeding, floating, or production bonuses.

Species performance; sockeyes slightly larger

Sockeye SalmonThe 2023 harvest of 40.6 million sockeye salmon was 27% higher than the recent 20-year average of 31.9 million for all districts. Nushagak and Wood River sockeye salmon escapements were above the sustainable escapement goal (SEG) ranges, but within the optimum escapement goal (OEG) ranges adopted this year by the Alaska Board of Fisheries for Chinook salmon conservation.

The sockeye salmon escapement goal was exceeded on the Igushik River, but all other systems were within their respective escapement goal ranges. Overall, run timing was one day late compared to the 10-year average. The 2023 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run was dominated by 3-ocean fish, or fish with three years of ocean growth. The 1.3 age class composed roughly 61% of the total run to Bristol Bay and came in well over its preseason forecast of 46%. Age 2.3 fish made up the next largest component of the run at 19%, which was also above the forecasted 9%. Fish with two years of marine growth (1.2s and 2.2s) made up most of the remaining age classes seen in 2023. The 1.2 and 2.2 age classes made up 13% and 5% of the 2 total return, respectively, which is less than half of their preseason forecasts. Average weight for sockeye salmon in 2023 was 5.5 pounds which is slightly larger than recent years due to the high percentage of larger 3-ocean fish and in line with the most recent 20-year average.

Chinook Salmon — Chinook salmon harvested in Bristol Bay this season were incidentally caught during directed sockeye salmon fishing periods. The Nushagak District, which is the main contributor of Chinook salmon harvests in Bristol Bay, was again actively managed to reduce Chinook salmon harvest in an effort to meet the escapement goal. Overall, the 2023 Chinook salmon harvests were below average in all districts of Bristol Bay. A preliminary total of 9,512 Chinook salmon were harvested, which is below the most recent 20-year average of 40,741 fish, and the third lowest in the last 20 years. The Nushagak District Chinook salmon harvest was 6,847 fish (Table 6), which is well below the 20-year average harvest of 32,491 fish. The Nushagak River Chinook salmon in-river run index at Portage Creek Sonar was 31,499 fish, which is below the escapement goal range of 55,000–120,000 fish and the in-river goal of 95,000 fish.

Chum Salmon — The 2023 preliminary Bristol Bay chum salmon harvest was 342,905 fish, well below the recent 20-year average of 1.1 million fish. The Nushagak District is the largest producer of chum salmon and had a harvest of 175,090 fish. The Nushagak River chum salmon escapement of 110,379 fish was below the lower bound sustainable escapement goal of 200,000 fish.

Pink SalmonThere was no directed fishery for pink salmon in 2023 because they are predominantly an even year species in Bristol Bay and were thus not abundant. The harvest was incidental to the sockeye salmon fishery and totaled 3,142 fish. Pink salmon escapement is not monitored in Bristol Bay.

Coho Salmon — The preliminary coho salmon harvest in 2023 was 15,561 fish which was below the recent 20- year average of 97,620 fish. The Nushagak District is typically the largest producer of coho salmon and accounted for 7,098 of the fish harvest in 2023. Egegik District produced 6,732 coho salmon harvest in 2023. Harvests of coho salmon can be variable from year to year depending on processor availability, market conditions, and overall fishing effort. In 2023, fishing ended early due in part to bad weather and low market interest in purchasing coho salmon. Coho salmon escapement is not monitored in Bristol Bay.

See more Bristol Bay charts and tables from ADF&G here

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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