As the season winds down, an Arctic tern perches atop the fairlead of a stern roller, and a boat lies at anchor in Ugashik. Our amazing photographer Chris Miller has headed to Southeast Alaska to photograph the purse seine fishery there. It’s been a wild season in Bristol Bay and we appreciate you joining us for the ride. What started out slow – it was a real nail-biter there for a while! – ended with weeks of heavy, consistent fishing as tens of millions of salmon pushed their way home against the Bay’s famously strong tides. As we close the Sockeye Season 2015 photo series the total run to the Bay sits at 49 million fish and counting. There isn’t another salmon fishery on the planet that compares, and memories of this season will last a very long time! We want to thank Chris Miller for his work this season, and encourage our visitors to see more of it at csmphotos.com. Thanks for your interest in Bristol Bay Sockeye. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and @BBSockeye for the latest news, cooking tips, and events!
The back deck of the Icy Bay – lots of nice, big sockeye that just came aboard, ready to be bled and placed in refrigerated seawater to keep them at 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
The F/V Lady America picks up a stuffer of a set in Ugashik. The fishing has been breaking all kinds of records for catch this late in the season on the east side of Bristol Bay.
A closer view of the Lady America picking a huge set of fish. A set like this one might yield 10 to 15,000 pounds of salmon, enough to fill the hatches of many Bristol Bay boats.
A scene from earlier this season, as a raft of boats at anchor waits in the Egegik River for escapement to climb and fishing time to commence. Crews appreciate the time to socialize. In our fishery, some 1,800 permit holders hail from 37 states. Each Bristol Bay boat represents a private, independent business, and each skipper employs an additional 2-4 crew members, meaning that Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery – on the catching side – is some 7,000 people strong. The processing and support industries employ thousands more!
At the Naknek city dock, the F/V Casi Jo is dwarfed by a sea of refrigerated containers that will carry Bristol Bay sockeye to domestic and world markets. In recent years, Bristol Bay communities and support industries have invested heavily in logistical facilities and equipment that support the fishery. These investments ensure that the very highest-quality sockeye are available not just as the season is underway, but throughout the year.
Saved a couple of nice fish to enjoy ourselves!
Mount Peulik is one of the many active volcanoes on the Alaska Peninsula, and it serves as a striking backdrop for fishermen in the Ugashik District – even though they do stay focused on their nets!
Lots of fish mean long tender lines as offloads can take awhile. The tender Brittany has eleven boats waiting to deliver the days catch in Ugashik.
Fishing has picked up!! Ugashik typically intercepts fish headed to other districts and the fishing here has been pretty good the last few days, hence our transfer to the most southern fishing district in Bristol Bay. Pictured, two sockeye hitting the end of the net.
The F/V Icy Bay has transferred from the Egegik District to the Ugashik District, further down the Alaska Peninsula. Here, Aaron Opp and Jonathan Adams take advantage of the mandated 48-hour “down time” transfer period — their first time on land in 3 weeks — to walk around and explore Pilot Point for a quick one-hour walk.
The shiny new F/V Icy Bay steaming its way to Ugashik, with Cape Grieg in the background
Earning every penny. Jonathan Adams and Aaron Opp duck spray from the wind and waves during a storm with gusts of 60 mph in Egegik.
Wild times. The crew of the F/V Seahawk braves 60 mph gusts to put a few more sockeye aboard in Egegik.
Powered by sockeye! We eat A LOT of sockeye while fishing, as it is our main source of fresh protein… and it’s delicious. These tasty red treats are bound for a boat favorite Cioppino.
The sun sets over Coffee Point on the bank of the Egegik River as a brief shower moves through. To the left of the point in this photo is the major anchorage in the Egegik district, where the majority of the fleet “drops the hook” between openings. This entire area is intertidal, as you can see from the wide exposed mudflats stretching out to the main river channel.
Another day on the north line at Egegik, as the Vixen lays out her net across the bow of the Pegasus, whose net is already in the water. In the foreground, a crewman aboard the Rachel watches for his skipper’s signal to “let ‘er go.” He will then toss the red buoy astern, and it will pull the Rachel’s net over the stern roller and into the water.
The crew of the Fantasea, a veteran vessel of the Egegik district’s north line fishery, pick sockeye as they come aboard on a calm, misty day.
The Icy Bay offloads its catch at the end of another fishing day in Egegik. Here, two brailer bags, each containing hundreds of pounds of sockeye, are lifted with the tender vessel’s hydraulic crane. The fish are weighed, then lowered and spilled into the tender’s hold, which is filled with refrigerated sea water. From Egegik the fish are transported to a shore plant in Naknek where they will be filleted and frozen, or canned, so they can be enjoyed year-round.
Happy fourth of july!
We could not imagine a more beautiful or appropriate photo for the 4th than this stunning photo of a gillnetter underway with a flag at the masthead. Remember to grill Bristol Bay sockeye this weekend, and have a safe, happy Independence Day!
Things can get a little crowded along fishing district boundary lines because that’s where the fish enter legal catching territory. Here, three boats have deployed their nets parallel to the Egegik district’s north line and each other as the ebb tide sweeps them slowly south.
In Bristol Bay, salmon fishermen use drift nets, but they bear no resemblance to the “curtains of death” that stretch for miles and indiscriminately sweep up marine life in high-seas foreign fleet operations. Bristol Bay’s nets are short and shallow, while the huge tides and currents created by the Bay and the Bering Sea prevent anything but the most determined, strongest swimmers – meaning salmon! – from being caught on these fishing grounds.
Careful handling ensures that Bristol Bay’s salmon retain absolute peak flavor. In this photo, a deckhand makes a quick incision to allow the sockeye to bleed out prior to dropping it through the deck hatch into a holding tank of refrigerated seawater. A “best practice” in seafood care and handling, bleeding is now widespread in the Bristol Bay fleet.
Aaron Opp picks a fish as the sun sets and the fishing period wraps up for the evening. The days are long in Alaska this time of year. Today (June 30th), first light was at 4:14 AM and last light will be at 12:51 AM tomorrow!
The female skipper of the F/V Szenta cruises the Egegik district’s south line looking for some open water to lay out her net. More and more women operate driftnet boats in Bristol Bay, a trend that has been increasing for the last decade or two. Across Alaska’s fishing industry as a whole, a general “graying of the fleet” has raised concerns, but natural turnover continues to provide opportunities for new entrants, whether they come up through fishing families or start a new tradition from scratch.
On the F/V Icy Bay, Aaron Opp continues the tradition of kissing the first sockeye of the season.
Brandon Mulholland on the F/V Pura Vida sets the net on the Egegik district’s south line with Mt. Peulik on the horizon, one of the many volcanoes that dot the skyline of the Alaska Peninsula.
Jason Kohlhase pilots the brand new F/V Icy Bay to its first anchorage in Egegik.
The fishing vessel Shrike gets launched into the Naknek River at the Lummi Fisheries launch ramp, while the F/V Miss Carolyn waits for the tide to come back in. The combination of shallow waters and very large tides makes for interesting logistics in Bristol Bay.
The F/V Erin sits along the edge of the Alaska Peninsula Highway near Naknek as a testament to years of fishing past. She represents a different generation, evolution, and style of fishing that preceded the modern era of refrigeration and quality.
Fast Hands. Kalah Statz uses a net needle to attach corks and the corkline to a gillnet at Watzituya Nets in Naknek.
Mid-June is a scramble as some 1,650 fishermen and their crews ready for launch. Here, Corey Potter, of Vermont, tightens the last couple bolts on his rudder after replacing his prop on the F/V Melody.
Marcia Dale, of Watzituya Nets, builds a gillnet. Each fishing vessel will go through multiple nets in the rough-and-tumble of a high volume Bristol Bay season, so Marcia’s shop is very busy this time of year!
An aerial view over some of the boatyards that line the Naknek River. Each of the 32′ boats you see represents a small business and a lot of work! The boats anchored in the river are the ones who have already “splashed.” In a few more days, the boatyards will empty out as salmon enter the Bay and the fleet launches.