Salmon fishermen at Bristol Bay set a record last summer for chilling their fish.

Despite a surprise hit of one of the biggest sockeye runs in 20 years, 73 percent of the sockeye deliveries by the Bay’s nearly 15-hundred driftnet boats were chilled.

That’s a five percent increase over the prior year – and compares to a 24 percent chilling rate from 2008.

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Overall, the fleet set a new record at chilling nearly 130 million pounds of salmon.

That good news comes from the 2017 Processor Survey done by Anchorage-based Northern Economics for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. The RSDA is operated and funded by the drift fleet with a one percent tax on their catches.

The better fish quality meant most of the salmon shifted away from the low value canning line into pricier products.

Last year 83 percent of the sockeyes were put up whole/headed and gutted, or as fillets – only 14 percent of the Bay’s sockeye salmon last summer went into cans. That compares to upwards of 75 percent in cans 20 years ago.

So what’s the big deal about Bristol Bay salmon if you fish or live elsewhere? Andy Wink is a fisheries economist at Wink Research

 “The sockeye resource at Bristol bay is very unique because of its size. Typically, it’s 35-40 percent of the global sockeye supply, and it is a huge chunk of Alaska’s salmon value overall.

Last year, Alaska’s 53 million sockeye catch accounted for fully half of the value of the state’s whole salmon fishery.

All but 15 million of the reds came from Bristol Bay. The size of that harvest, Wink says, has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere.

 “Certainly in 2015 when the base price was 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest we saw coho prices come way down and sockeye in other areas was down quite a bit too.  It’s a market moving fishery is the best way to explain it and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen even if they don’t fish in the Bay.”

The 2017 sockeye salmon price at Bristol Bay averaged $1.02 a pound, the statewide sockeye average price was $1.13 – a six cent increase over the year before.

Find links to the Bristol Bay processors report here —