Number of fishermen decline at Bristol Bay

Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Low prices and a poor red salmon run forecast are keeping scores of commercial fishermen from Bristol Bay this summer.

The high number of no-shows is odd for the bay, normally the state's hottest fishing hole because of its famed wild sockeye run.

As of Tuesday, 1,528 drift gillnet boats had registered to fish, a decline of 295 or 16 percent from last year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Setnetters who stretch their nets from shore were down 133, or 14 percent, to 788 participants this season.

Jeff Regnart, a state biologist who manages the fishery, said it appeared to be the smallest turnout in 20 seasons or more for the world's biggest sockeye run.

The Fourth of July is the traditional peak of the Bristol Bay run. Regnart said it's possible the peak has passed because the fish came in early this year, perhaps six or seven days ahead of normal.

Through Monday, a disappointing 7.1 million fish had been landed. Fish and Game had predicted a relatively small season catch of 15.6 million fish, compared to 20.5 million caught last summer.

Fishermen have been battered both by low prices, brought on by the rise of foreign fish farming, and poor runs.

In storage yards in Naknek and Dillingham, dozens of boats sit high and dry on blocks.

''This will be the first Fourth of July I've spent home in Petersburg since 1978,'' said Eric Rosvold, 50, who is using one of his other vessels to chase Southeast chum salmon.

''Farmed salmon is eating our lunch,'' he said. He's not optimistic about Bristol Bay sockeye, which compete directly in the key Japanese market with a pen-raised salmon and trout from countries such as Chile.

Riley Starks of Lummi Island, Wash., near Bellingham, said left his boat parked this summer for the first time in more than 20 years.

''Basically, I'm staying away because of price,'' he said. ''I just don't have any hope until we get out of the Japanese market and open up into the U.S. market.''

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