Articles Posted in Bristol Bay

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Ocean_Waves-300x173It is with great sadness that we report the death of a 21-year-old commercial fisherman. On Friday July 5th, 2024, Corwin Wheeler died after becoming entangled in fishing gear and being pulled overboard and underwater in the Bristol Bay area.

According to Alaska State Trooper spokesman Austin McDaniel, The Department of Public Safety’s patrol vessel received a distress call from the salmon fishermen aboard the F/V ANNY JOY in Kvichak Bay at approximately 12:30 a.m. It was reported that the captain and three other crew members were on board at the time of the incident.

According to Alaska State Troopers, two patrol vessels responded to the scene just as the crew pulled Mr. Wheeler from the water. He had been in the water for about half an hour before being pulled back onto the boat and was unconscious at that time.

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Northline_Hannah-300x181Northline Seafoods has announced the inaugural voyage of its latest vessel, F/V HANNAH, setting sail from Bellingham’s Fairhaven Shipyard to Bristol Bay for the 2024 salmon fishing season. The one-of-a-kind platform was built specifically for the conditions in Bristol Bay.

“This is a dream come true,” said Northline Seafoods CEO Ben Blakey. “Seeing our vessel leave the Fairhaven Shipyard is a critical milestone for the Bristol Bay salmon industry and for Northline Seafoods. I am proud of our team and appreciative of all the people who helped us get here.”

The F/V HANNAH is a 400′ x 100′ barge that Northline describes as a “vertically integrated, all-in-one solution for buying, freezing, shipping, storing, and distributing wild Alaska salmon.” The vessel features the capacity to freeze up to one million pounds of salmon per day, managed by a production crew of twenty. In addition, it can freeze salmon to a core temperature of -30°F in under 2 hours, and the cold storage facilities can hold over ten million pounds of frozen salmon, while also accommodating 2.3 million pounds of fresh fish.

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Red_King_Crab-300x225After a two-year closure due to insufficient stock levels for fishing, the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery in Alaska is scheduled to reopen at noon on October 15, 2023. The established quota for this reopening is 2.15 million pounds, slightly less than the 2.6 million pounds set in 2020.

Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, said members are happy to return to their work on the water. However, they are committed to ensuring minimal impact, aiming for the sustainability of the crab resource for future generations.

“They are tracking closely the science around the health of crab stocks and want to help crab continue to rebound,” she said. We’re adding extra measures this season during our directed pot fishery for crab to reduce our interactions with crab. We’re increasing communication with the fleet on best handling practices, clean fishing areas, and opportunities to share gear.”

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SockeySalmon-300x172It’s sockeye salmon season in Alaska, and for the second year in a row, Bristol Bay is breaking catch records, a trend that is expected to continue as the week goes on.

More than 53.3 million fish had been caught by Thursday, July 14th (the run began on June 1st), and fishing is expected to continue until early August.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, more than 1,700 drift gillnetters as well as beach-based fishers caught approximately 2.36 million sockeye salmon in a single day.

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Pink-SalmonSalmon season is always an anxious time for fisherman, as everyone waits to see how accurate catch predictions will be. But this year has proven to be quite disappointing as Alaska’s statewide salmon catch is expected to fall 31 percent below pre-season predictions. All species of salmon catches are down except for sockeye.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the total shortfall can be blamed on the poor returns of one specific species, pink salmon, to the Gulf of Alaska. Initial forecasting predicted a pink salmon catch of approximately 70 million, but current numbers are at 38 million. This small salmon species, also known as “Humpback Salmon” for the distinctive large hump that males develop on their backs during spawning season, usually weigh just 2 to 6 pounds as adults. Since the fish are flakey and low in oil content, they are generally processed and sold as value-added products such as salmon patties or frozen marinated steaks. Most pink salmon is canned, which yields a final product with a long shelf life that can be easily transported.

It was expected that the pink salmon run would be low this year, as the fish returning are the offspring of those that spawned in 2016, a devastatingly low year for pink salmon. Alaska issued a federal disaster declaration in several regions due to the low 2016 harvest and was subsequently issued $56 million in aid. However, these 2018 yields are far lower than anyone predicted.

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Yok-FenderWhen the F/V KRISTI lost power on July 14th shortly after midnight, no one could have imagined the disaster that was about to take place as the vessel drifted near Clark’s Point, a Bristol Bay village just outside of Dillingham. As the tide came in, it brought the vessel along toward shore, traveling at approximately 5 knots or 500 feet per minute.

Owner and skipper Jan Medhaug along with deckhand Kyle Brajakowski were working to restore engine power to the 32-foot salmon gillnetter while Kayla Breeden, Jan’s wife, placed a buoy at the stern. Breeden reported that she could see that they were headed straight for two large docked vessels, the 330-foot F/V GORDON JENSEN and the 400-foot cargo ship SOHOH.

With no engine power to maneuver the vessel, the tide pushed and wedged the F/V KRISTI into a Yokohama fender that was positioned between the two large vessels. A “fender” is a large rubber cylinder filled with air and wrapped in tires, that acts as a buffer to protect large vessels docked close together. The F/V KRISTI was nearly the same size as the fender, and thus the small aluminum vessel began violently bouncing between the two large steel-hulled ships. The smaller vessel twisted and took on water, then sunk seconds after the last crewmember was lifted from the vessel by the crew on the GORDON JENSEN in a rescue basket. See the astonishing video of the sinking here.

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Bristol-Bay-300x199It is with great sadness that we report that the search for missing crewmember John Phillips, 59, of Juneau, Alaska, has been suspended. Phillips was reported missing after the F/V PACIFIC KNIGHT capsized and sank near Clark’s Point in Bristol Bay on Wednesday, July 25th.

Two other crewmembers were rescued from the water by good Samaritan vessel Amanda C, then transferred to Alaska State Troopers. Authorities continue to search for the missing crewmember and investigate the cause of the accident. It is unknown if Phillips was wearing a PFD.

“Ending a search is never easy, especially when working alongside so many people dedicated to finding the missing person,” said Coast Guard Lt. Stephan Nolan, the District 17 command duty officer, in a press release. “Our condolences go out to this man’s family and friends during this time of hardship.”

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