Editor’s Note: Dustin Solberg, staffer for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska, is working for a month this summer on a commercial salmon fishing crew in Bristol Bay. The Conservancy began protecting wild salmon habitat in Bristol Bay more than 10 years ago and this work continues today in the face of looming development threats. Read all his “Pulling the Nets” posts over the next month and follow his progress aboard a fisherman’s skiff in remote Alaska.
Friday, June 25: The commercial sockeye salmon fishing season has begun!
We set our nets today at 12 noon and fished for a few hours. We found that though the fishing season was open, the sockeye salmon run is still not here in the numbers that make Bristol Bay famous. Yet we did find some fish in our nets.
Alaska’s Bristol Bay is home to the largest remaining runs of wild salmon anywhere on Earth. Healthy habitat – vast reaches of tundra flowing with rivers and lakes – helps ensure salmon populations remain abundant.
In 2010, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast a sockeye salmon return of nearly 40 million fish. We’ll see if that prediction proves to be true…
Since today is the day that brings all the fishermen out, and the fishing was slow, we tied up to the skiffs of our neighboring fishermen to swap lunches – last year’s dried salmon for a batch of fresh trail mix – and trade the kinds of stories people tell in those moments when distractions are few.
The possibility of more lucrative returns has us rising early to fish Saturday’s high tide. How early? My alarm is set for 2 a.m.
This is the true advent of the fishing season for me, a rookie fisherman. We no longer live by the circadian rhythms to which we’re accustomed. We don’t follow the sun. For the weeks we work these waters to catch salmon for the cannery – and your table – we follow the tides.
The tidebook I carry shows tide will come at 4:30 am, and we’ll be on the water well ahead of that. Dressed in layers of wool and waders and thick rubber fisherman’s gloves, we’ll be warm for the 40 degree cool of the Alaska maritime dawn.
Image: Setting salmon nets in Bristol Bay. Source: Dustin Solberg)