Way of Life
Producing almost fifty percent of the world’s sockeye salmon supply, 14,000 seasonal jobs and nearly $2 billion in annual revenue, Bristol Bay is a robust, sustainable, and diverse region for commercial fishing. In 2016, the fishery caught its 2 billionth sockey salmon since harvest records started in the 1880s. The Togiak herring sac roe fishery starts in May, and then in June the sockeye salmon fishery opens for the eastern region of the Bay, expanding to the western region in late June, early July. The Bristol Bay commercial fishery has been supporting families since the late 1800s, with several families having four and five generations of active fishermen.
The most abundant, sustainable food source for people of this region is salmon. Families catch and smoke or can thousands of pounds of fish annually, providing enough to feed their immediate and extended families through the winter until the salmon arrive again the following year. Most villages in the region were established in locations with ample salmon runs: the Nushagak River watershed, Kvichak River watershed, Naknek River, and Lake Iliamna. The people of the Bristol Bay region harvest the most Sockeye Salmon of any subsistence users in the state, with an annual harvest of approximately 100,000 fish (nearly 30% of the total statewide harvest).
While harvesting salmon provides a significant amount of the annual food supply for residents of this region, hunting is also an integral part of feeding local families. From moose to caribou, bear to Ptarmigan, abundant wildlife sources supplement salmon throughout the autumn and winter. And like salmon, hunting provides a crucial link to culture and heritage that takes hunting beyond a mere act of putting food on the table. But the region also hosts significant sport hunting opportunities, with commercial guides operating in several parts of the region to provide clients amazing opportunities to hunt for Alaska’s largest animals.
Not just a thing of Jack London stories, trapping still exists as a vital way of creating crafts and clothing, as well as bringing much needed cash into a household to pay for the gasoline and other resources necessary to go out into the country to harvest fish and wildlife to feed a family throughout the year.
Like most rural Alaskan communities, general stores are rare and when they exist, they fail to provide much needed fresh produce and other foods. Fortunately, the Bristol Bay region, like most of Alaska, has a rich bounty of wild edible plants such as peas, potatoes, berries, and an assortment of greens and herbs. Many coastal residents also regularly harvest bird eggs in the spring and early summer to supplement their diet.
Sport fishing of salmon and trophy rainbow trout are a quiet but extensive part of the economic engine of the Bristol Bay region. Described as “world class,” “abundant” and an “angler’s paradise,” several streams provide incredible fishing opportunities for those who have the money to get out to the remote and high-end lodges. With the Kvichak River producing the single largest sockeye salmon run in the world and some incredible rainbow trout in the fall, as well as the Nushagak, Mulchatna and Koktuli Rivers, the river reaches and opportunities are unparalleled.
The Bristol Bay region hosts the largest state park in the United States (WoodTikchik State Park), three national park units (Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve, Lake Clark National Park & Preserve and Katmai National Park & Preserve), and four national wildlife refuges (Alaska Maritime NWR, Togiak NWR, Becharof NWR and Alaska Peninsula NWR). Together, these eight preserves alone provide 19.1 million acres of access to rivers, streams, lakes, bays, mountains and tundra to hike, paddle and float. The region also boasts some of the highest concentration of brown bears in the world in Katmai National Park & Preserve, which leads to a robust business of guided bear viewing and photography tours and opportunities. Countless lodges, tour companies and air taxi services can help you get into this vast country.