Seawatch by Cristy Fry

November 17, 2020

Bristol Bay is looking at a smaller sockeye season for 2021, but still in respectable territory.


The projected run of 51 million sockeye would allow for a potential total harvest of 37.4 million fish in Bristol Bay and 1 million fish in the South Peninsula fisheries.


That would put the harvest at 13% more than the most recent 10-year average of 32.2 million sockeye, and 40% greater than the long-term average harvest of about 22 million fish over the time period from 1963 to the present, according to the ADF&G statement.


The statement praised response to the pandemic at the community level and beyond.


"Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many logistical challenges the department faced during the 2020 salmon season in Bristol Bay. Without the generosity of processors and Bristol Bay communities who provided access for our technicians to collect data, critical information needed to develop this forecast would not have been available. The department would like to extend its gratitude for keeping our crews safe and our data collection continuous," the ADF&G announcement concluded.


The 2020 sockeye harvest for Bristol Bay was 25% above the forecast of 46.6 million fish, but the ex-vessel value fell short, mainly due to economic fallout from the pandemic.


The 2020 Bristol Bay preliminary ex-vessel value of $140.7 million of all salmon species ranks ninth in the last 20 years and was 5% below the 20-year average of $147.8 million. The 40.1 million harvest of all salmon species was the fourth largest since 2000.


Meanwhile, the developer behind the proposed Pebble mine on Monday announced that the final report needed to potentially win approval for a key permit has been submitted to federal regulators, according to the Anchorage Daily News.


That means President Donald Trump’s administration could make a decision on whether to permit the copper and gold prospect before he leaves office on Jan. 20, either allowing the controversial project to advance or stopping it. A decision could also come later, under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.


In August, the agency said that Pebble must select lands in the region for protection to offset damage the mine would cause, if it is built. Experts have said the request is a uniquely high bar for Pebble because the region is pristine and not in need of protection.


Pebble believes the newly submitted plan meets the Corps' requirements and underscores how the mine can coexist with fishing in the region, according to a statement from Ron Thiessen, head of Pebble parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals.


In a statement Monday, Tim Bristol, executive director of conservation group SalmonState, said Pebble can’t mitigate its way out of the dangers the mine poses to the fishery.


This article also appears in the Homer News. Cristy Fry can be reached at [email protected].