The connection between salmon, the land, and the people runs deep in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The Alaska Native people of this remote, wild region have based their lives and their livelihoods off of salmon for thousands of years.Over the past 130 years, Bristol Bay has also become the home of the largest commercial wild salmon fishery in the world. Every year, an average of 38 million sockeye have returned to Bristol Bay. How many salmon is that? Well, if 38 million sockeye salmon were arranged nose-to-tail, they would stretch from Alaska to Australia and back. Each summer, wild salmon migrate from the open ocean back up the rivers to the lakes of their birth to lay their eggs, completing the natural life cycle unique to wild salmon. The rivers throb and churn with the vast group of fish swimming upstream to spawn. Biologists closely monitor the amount of salmon being harvested and count the salmon that move through the fishing areas and upstream to protected spawning beds. It is critical to balance Bristol Bay’s biological needs to ensure that there will be a thriving salmon population for generations to come.
Sustainability is the driving force in Alaska’s fishing industry. A commitment to sustainable fishing practices requires time, resources, science-based research, and enforcement of rules. Indeed, all of those things are practiced and demonstrated both during the frenetic weeks of the Bristol Bay sockeye run, as well as throughout the rest of the year, as data is compiled and analyzed. The size of Bristol Bay’s salmon runs prove the sustainability and success of this approach. The past few years have seen record-breaking numbers of fish returning to Bristol Bay. In July 2016, the two billionth salmon was harvested in Bristol Bay!