Left: Department of Commerce Kvichak Bay Egegik Bay to Libbyville. 1949. Trident Seafoods. The 130-year-old Diamond NN Cannery is situated downriver, on the south bank near the mouth of the Naknek River, one of five major pristine rivers— the Kvichak, Nushagak, Ugashik, Egegik and Naknek—that comprise the lifeblood watersheds of Bristol Bay, the eastern-most arm of the Bering Sea. Right: A family from Paugvik (Naknek) clean salmon. Emery Clifford Kolb, 1919. Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Kolb photographed the family at Paugvik, a Yup’ik village situated near the mouth of the Naknek River. It was a member of the Katmai Expedition that ascended the Naknek River using a Naknek Packing Company boat to reach the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes in what is now Katmai National Park.
With over a century of overharvesting, fish traps, climate change, and other factors, many Alaska salmon fisheries are now critically depleted. The exception is Bristol Bay, a sustainable commercial fishery and a remarkable environmental success story.
The Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery anywhere on earth, with recent annual harvests of 40 million salmon, and even higher.
All five species of Pacific salmon return to Bristol Bay rivers, and because no hatchery fish are raised or released, Bristol Bay salmon remain wild. The most abundant species are sockeye or red salmon, and Bristol Bay produces nearly half of the world’s wild sockeye.
Not only does Bristol Bay’s salmon support economically sustainable commercial and sport fisheries, but the Alaska Native cultures present in Bristol Bay—the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Sugpiaq—are intact, salmon-based cultures and represent some of the only remaining Subsistence lifeways left in the world.