This year’s mid season fishing update has arrived, and with it, a surprising amount of updates and unpredictable changes from the FV Ava Jane crew currently fishing the 2022 Alaska salmon run season in Bristol Bay, Alaska!
Early Bristol Bay Salmon Season Shenanigans
While Captain Steve was able to keep us up to date with all the early season shenanigans happening on the Ava Jane on Instagram, updates became a bit more rare as the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon season ramped up around the end of June.
The four man crew, including deckhands Matt, Jake and Dylan and Captain Steve, saw a usual start to the season; a solid few days of waiting for the fish to come. To pass the time, the crew got creative with their daily workouts, put together a brief tour of the FV Ava Jane, and even taught folks the proper way to mend a gillnet.
All these updates, thanks to Captain Steve staying active on Instagram with the help of his satellite phone and a spot of service in the Naknek River as they waited for the season to begin.
Peak Season: The Big Arrival
Around June 28th, this year’s peak Alaskan salmon fishermen, Taylor, arrived. Though he had 8 years gillnetting on various boats for various captains under his belt and had been involved in the Bristol Bay industry through his family since he was born, he admitted to feeling a bit nervous getting back into the swing of things after a 3 year hiatus.
“I only had 7 days to mentally and physically prepare for it. I was definitely nervous I wasn’t going to be able to be in the right mental state or shape to do the time up there and do the best job I could,” he recounts.
Luckily, the big arrival of this year’s record-breaking run the day after he stepped onto the Ava Jane was a good reminder to Taylor that picking fish “is just like riding a bike - it comes back to you”.
Taylor’s first day on the boat for peak season, the crew had a slow but steady day, perfect for getting their fish picking hands back. The next day, they caught eight times their previous day’s haul. The day after that, the fishermen fleet in the Nushagak District alone had their largest single harvest day ever recorded, bringing in 2.46 million sockeye salmon on June 30th alone.
According to this same July 1st report from Bristol Bay public radio station KDLG, that 2.46 million count surpasses the fleet’s 2021 single-harvest day record by a whopping 600,000 fish.
After a quick (and surprisingly spirited) Fourth of July celebration on the Ava Jane, it was time for the fishermen to get back to work. With numbers like that, there was no way Captain Steve and the crew were going to miss any chance they had at catching fish!
Shortly after getting into the swing of things, Deckhand Matt started struggling with an infected tooth. Unfortunately, with a swollen face and no access to antibiotics, it was decided he should head home for the proper care.
“[It was unfortunate] because we called Matt our “Deck Dad”. He is such a sweetheart how he was always looking out for us and taking care of us. Just such a good personality to have on the boat,” Taylor said of Matt’s departure.
Since then, Matt has been able to get the care he needs and has returned to work at our Wild For Salmon brick and mortar store this week. He is doing well, and our team both in Alaska and Pennsylvania are so grateful for that!
With one deckhand out and the fish running hard, it was time for Captain Steve to figure out the next steps. Though he still had three deckhands, peak fishermen Taylor would also be leaving soon as previously planned.
Wanting to give someone within the Kurian Enterprises organization the opportunity to work on the boat before looking for an "outside" fisherman replacement, Captain Steve put a call out to our internal team.
Three different people stepped up and expressed interest in heading to Alaska to join Captain Steve and the crew. After gauging the needs of the businesses and the best way to cover responsibilities of the job that would be left temporarily unattended, it was decided that Bryce, a Foreman at the Kurian’s Tree Care business, Susquehanna Tree Care, would head north to Alaska.
Like ships passing in the night, peak fishermen Taylor and greenhorn Bryce exchanged places around July 15th. Taylor took his leave of the Ava Jane on the eve of July 15th, heading back home to finally rest up. The next morning, Bryce arrived in Naknek and climbed aboard the Ava Jane, ready to learn the ways of a Bristol Bay salmon fisherman.
Current Updates and Figures from the Bay
This week, we were able to get a hold of the Ava Jane crew and ask Bryce how he’s feeling about his first few days on the boat. According to his response (sent via text message on Captain Steve’s satellite phone), he is still trying to find his sea legs - but the rough weather has turned him into a land lover for life!
“There is so much to learn but [I am] picking up fishing pretty quickly," Bryce said.
Also freshly aboard the Ava Jane this week is Wil Claussen, previous Bristol Bay fisherman and Captain Steve’s good friend from Seattle. He’s aboard to capture some exciting moments on camera (and maybe pick a few fish or two, if Captain Steve has anything to do with it!).
With the dust of ever-shuffling deckhands finally settled earlier this week, it was time to head back out to fish the Naknek district. According to this week’s most recent Bristol Bay Fisheries Report from KDLG, who source their numbers from Alaska Department of Fish and Game fishing reports, the sockeye salmon harvest has officially reached 57 million fish.
This total 2022 harvest is from all districts in the Bristol Bay area, though the Naknek-Kvichak (pronounced “kwee-jack”) fishermen are currently bringing in most of the daily harvest at this point. Lucky for Captain Steve and the Ava Jane, as this is where they are currently fishing!
Though daily harvests are slowly starting to drop off around the bay, the total escapement of fish is at 17.5 million, and the 2022 run so far clocks in at 74.5 million sockeye. This total count already far surpasses last year’s largest run on record by 8.4 million fish, well over a week before the season usually comes to a close.
And while it’s sounding like this season was another well-managed, record-breaking year for the bay, there have been some recent worries about storage facilities having enough space for the giant numbers of fish the industry has never seen before. Co-Captain Jenn explains:
“[It was a] solid season from start to finish. So balanced, in fact, that the processors never needed to limit the catch of the fisherman. The end of the season may come early only because of Northland running out of containers because of the record harvest.”
A Kurian Family Adventure
With yet another year of record-breaking salmon runs, we could think of no better way to celebrate these incredible animals than by passing on word of their importance and resilience to the next generation.
Back home at Wild For Salmon headquarters, Co-Captain Jenn and Customer Service Manager Kourtney have been dipping their toes into salmon education with the local summer farm camp community.
And while Co-Captain Jenn is no stranger to both sockeye salmon and teaching (in addition to being Captain Steve’s favorite summertime fish picker, Jenn was also a school teacher in the off season for 8 years!), we imagine she is most focused on her own two salmon students; Ava and Tommy Kurian. Together, Jenn, Ava and Tommy head up to Bristol Bay to join Captain Steve for some fish picking at the end of this week!
While the deckhands will most likely be kissing the shoreline, happy to be leaving for the offseason, we’ve heard the Kurian kids are reeling with excitement about their trip up north.
In addition to testing out their own fish picking gear at home before the big trip, Jenn says the kids are most excited to see their Dad. “Tommy is really missing Steve and is very vocal about it. He’s such a love bug.”
This week marks Jenn’s 11 year anniversary of the last time she picked a fish. Though she, Ava and Tommy made a visit to the boat back in 2018, fish picking was not one of their Bristol Bay activities. With the looks of this year's run, there’s hope that the entire Kurian Family will luck out and be able to crew the FV Ava Jane together this weekend!
Stay tuned for our 2022 Season Recap, coming this August, to hear all about the Kurian Family’s adventures in Bristol Bay, Captain Steve’s thoughts on how the season went, and much, much more!
For those of you local to the Bloomsburg area, hear all about it in person at this year’s Fishtival! Thursday, August 25th Captain Steve and Co-Captain Jenn will be answering questions during a live Q&A as part of this year’s Fishtival Celebration.
As this is a two night event, be sure to rally your friends and family and return on Friday night for more yard games, live music, food, kids activities and 10% OFF EVERYTHING IN OUR STORE, including this summer’s wild Alaskan salmon catch! For more information on Fishtival 2022, click here.
Aubrey McNeil is the Marketing Manager for Wild for Salmon & Pride of Bristol Bay. Born, raised and currently located in the PNW, where she spent 22 years actively avoiding all things wild seafood before discovering its incomparable nutritional and environmental benefits. Oddly enough, it was not these formative years spent in coastal surroundings that established her love for wild fish and wild places, but the unique cuisines and people discovered through her years of travel since then. Aubrey is passionate about maintaining the outdoors as an inclusive space for all, as well as recreating responsibly within its vast and beautiful playgrounds. She gets excited about meeting new faces in new places, spending time in the backcountry, and is weirdly prideful of her above average knowledge of the craft brewery industry.