Here at Wild for Salmon, the month of August brings about many things for our team. Specifically, we see the return of our Captain and 75 million wild sockeye salmon!
Captain Steve Kurian just recently finished up the 2022 summer fishing season in Bristol Bay, Alaska and has returned back to Kurian Fisheries headquarters in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Now, he and the team will work hard for the next three weeks to get this year’s catch organized for distribution to folks across the U.S., starting Fishtival week.
But first - we continue the annual tradition of a third and final fishing update by interviewing Captain Steve on how he feels this year's wild Alaskan salmon season played out!
Another Record-Breaking Bristol Bay Sockeye Season
In a nutshell, Captain Steve recounts the 2022 Bristol Bay sockeye season as a “tidal wave of salmon”. “They never stopped coming! It was incredible to witness the biggest run on record,” he recounts.
“I can’t say enough about the management of this great resource and the biologists and fishermen that partake in it,” Captain Steve expressed. After all, Bristol Bay’s unique combination of resource management, sustainable fishing practices and monitored fishing periods are what make these numbers possible.
With the final count around 75 million sockeye, Bristol Bay has become a place of pure magic, thrill, and grit. While seeing this amount of wild salmon return to one place is undoubtedly jaw-dropping, it can also be extremely lucrative for fishermen - so long as they can keep up with the salmon! As Captain Steve put it, “it was a great season for a lot of fishermen, and that is good for everyone who battles what the Bay has to dish out each year”.
A ‘Slow But Steady’ Season for the Ava Jane
So, how did this record-breaking salmon season in Bristol Bay play out for Captain Steve and the Ava Jane crew?
“We started off the season in the Nushagak, where there was a ton of hype with more than 50% of the [return] slated for that district”, Kurian reported. Unfortunately, the fish ended up spreading out, coming in steady numbers that resulted in smaller catches than the crew had hoped for.
While off to a slow start for each boat, the Nushagak fleet overall was still producing wild numbers. According to the July 1st fishing report from local radio station KDLG, Thursday, June 30th marked the highest single-day harvest ever recorded, with the Nushagak fleet bringing in 2.46 million fish.
Just over a week later, on July 9th, the Ava Jane crew decided they couldn’t resist the salmon reports coming in over the radio for the Naknek/Kvichak district and transferred to the district that same day. While a transfer like this put a two-day “no fishing” limit on the Ava Jane, it turned out to be worthwhile. The next 8 days brought about some incredible harvest days for our fishermen, making their 2022 season a slow but steady one that added up to a great season!
Salmon Season Highlights & Low Points
When asked what the best part of the fishing season was, Captain Steve immediately responded, “having one of the best crews that was knee deep in salmon most days!”
According to a mid-season Instagram post by Captain Steve, he has never had a crew so happy to be picking fish. Deckhands Dylan and Taylor especially loved being fishermen and really embraced the season. Pairing this energy with seasoned Ava Jane deckhands and east-coasters Matt and Jake turned out to be one incredible combo. From pre-season haircuts to appease Steve, to spirited Fourth of July celebrations, it's safe to say the crew had fun this year.
This good energy was particularly impressive when the Ava Jane crew saw a few speed bumps throughout the season. As told in our 2022 Mid Season Update, longtime deckhand Matt came down with an infected tooth halfway through the season and had to be sent home.
In lieu of Matt leaving, one employee from Steve’s tree care business stepped up to the plate and took his place. Bryce, having spent little time on a small fishing vessel, learned he is a land lover through and through. “It didn’t help that he had to fish through a 45 mile per hour gale!” Captain Steve credited him.
These frequent high winds throughout the season not only caused some discomfort for the crew, but also interrupted their usual fish, eat, and sleep cycle. When high winds are blowing, the drift fleet avoids all distractions, focusing solely on fishing safely or hunkering down in giant swells that often measure 8 feet tall.
Another tough moment for the Ava Jane crew this year was the three day period where they fished for almost 69 hours straight! Usually, biologists set open fishing periods (called “openers”) for six to eight hours at a time in order to maintain a balance of salmon escapement and harvest. In this particular instance, escapement goals had been well-surpassed thanks to this year’s huge run, making the biologists more than comfortable with a multi-day harvest period for the fishermen.
Protecting Bristol Bay, Fisherman Style
Another key theme around the Bay this year included an even more united fleet in the face of the Pebble Mine issue. With everyone on a high about another record-breaking return, it was clear everyone was happy to be a Bristol Bay fisherman, and even more eager to protect Bristol Bay.
“It really strengthened the need to keep Bristol Bay protected for the long haul,” Steve reflected.
This year, Pride of Bristol Bay also partnered with the Naknek, Alaska location of Lummi Fishing Supply to provide a special run of our classic fish sleeve sweatshirts. Shop employees, cannery workers and fishermen alike sported their “Pride of Bristol Bay” hoodies around the Bay, unifying the fleet even more.
Through pre-season boatyard events, flying "No Pebble" flags all season, and some incredibly entertaining Instagram content, folks involved with the Bay have been working hard to tell the EPA why protections for clean water in Bristol Bay are vital.
For those interested in helping keep hard rock mines out of Bristol Bay, be sure to submit a comment to the EPA by September 6th. Through their Save Bristol Bay efforts, our partner Trout Unlimited Alaska has set up an easy way to submit your comments on their website. No matter how you are connected to Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, every voice counts!
A ‘Familial’ End to the Season
Despite the tough weather and long fishing periods, Captain Steve was able to end this year’s season on a particularly high note - with his family!
“It’s always been a dream of mine to have the family fishing on the boat together,” Steve shared. So when our Co-Captain Jenn Kurian flew up to Bristol Bay with her and Steve’s children, Ava and Tommy, you can imagine the pure joy the four had spending the last week of the fishing season together.
“I won’t fool everyone and will admit it was a trying time with a 6 and 9 year old living in 108 square feet,” Steve admitted. “Thank god for the back deck - and Jenn is a saint for putting herself through all of this!”
While teaching the kids how to pick the fish was an incredibly special moment for Captain Steve, it was Jenn who really stole the show. After 10 years off from her first decade of picking fishing with Steve, it was more than obvious she hadn’t lost her knack for the game. “She sure showed up Dylan when the first fish came over the roller!” Steve bragged.
The Kurian crew finished up their time in the Bay with a visit to Katmai National Park & Brooks Falls, some sport fishing, and helping Captain Steve put the boat away in preparation for the winter. They even had nightly soccer games in the boatyard to pass the time!
Preparations for a Salmon-Filled Fall
While Captain Steve’s favorite part about being home is usually seeing the family, this year's highlight was being back home on their Pennsylvania ranch with the dogs, chickens and horses. “I started hiking and shooting my longbow in preparation for the fall hunting season,” he shared. “Can’t forget my love for fresh tomatoes!” he exclaimed, as fresh produce is practically nonexistent in the Bay.
In addition to enjoying his down time, Captain Steve is gearing up for a salmon-fueled fall and winter. Alongside the Kurian Fisheries team, he and Jenn will be working to deliver this summer’s catch of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon to homes across the U.S. for the next 9 months.
Be one of the first to get your hands on this year’s new 2022 catch of wild Alaskan salmon by preordering your own shipment directly to your door! Shipping will start on September 12th for these orders. Those located near one of our Fall Buying Clubs can order anytime before August 31st for their local pick up happening in late September and early October, depending on your club location.