The Bristol Bay salmon run: Known to some fishermen as the 8th Wonder of the World

By Dianne McGinness

The Bristol Bay salmon run: Known to some fishermen as the 8th Wonder of the World
Thousands of people head to Bristol Bay each year to fish for Alaska sockeye salmon. Photo courtesy of Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

To some fishermen, you haven’t really lived until you’ve witnessed the Bristol Bay salmon run.

Located near King Salmon, Alaska, thousands of people head to Bristol Bay each year to fish for Alaska sockeye salmon. This weekend marks the start of the commercial fishing season.

Matt Luck, a long time Bristol Bay fisherman and founder of Alaska Wild Caught Seafood, describes the salmon run in Bristol Bay as the “8th Wonder of the World.”   “Seeing hundreds of thousands of chrome bright Sockeye charge a river mouth on one flood tide is a remarkable thing to experience as a fisherman,” Luck says. “Combine that with surreal sunsets, long hours, days and nights working side-by-side with close friends, Bristol Bay is quite simply a very unique, very special place.”

“Seeing hundreds of thousands of chrome bright Sockeye charge a river mouth on one flood tide is a remarkable thing to experience as a fisherman. Combine that with surreal sunsets, long hours, days and nights working side-by-side with close friends, Bristol Bay is quite simply a very unique, very special place.”  

Matt Luck
The Bristol Bay salmon run: Known to some fishermen as the 8th Wonder of the World
Matt Luck, a fisherman who works for Alaska Wild Caught Seafood, describes the salmon run in Bristol Bay as the “8th Wonder of the World.” Photo courtesy of Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association

Each year, around 3,000 commercial permit holders fish in the Bristol Bay area. (You need a permit in order to fish pretty much anywhere.) They catch around 200 million pounds of sockeye salmon annually.

When they need to fly their fishy cargo, there’s no one better to handle it than Alaska Air Cargo. We transport fresh sockeye salmon out of the Bristol Bay area each year. A lot of fish ends up being frozen to be made into salmon steaks, fish fillets, salmon burgers and more. We carry a large portion of fresh, never frozen, fish, which is a higher yield product.

“We carry over 1 million pounds of fresh salmon from Bristol Bay out of Dillingham and King Salmon on our jets in June and July,” said Shannon Stevens, cargo sales manager. “This is truly the biggest salmon run, so if you get fresh salmon in a market anywhere in the country – whether that be a fish market, grocery store or wholesale store, this is likely where it comes from, all summer long.”

Luck says that Alaska Wild Caught Seafood distributes Bristol Bay Sockeye salmon nationwide for everything from consumer protein subscription services, meal kit services and other online purveyors. Working as a commercial fisherman and operating a national wholesale distribution business creates new, unique challenges every day. The support our airline provides is invaluable.

The Bristol Bay salmon run: Known to some fishermen as the 8th Wonder of the World
Each year, fishermen catch around 200 million pounds of sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay. Photo courtesy of Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association

Many companies also rely on us to not only transport their fish out, but also their crews, and have relied on us for transporting supplies and critical boat parts between the continental U.S. and the state of Alaska.

“Our family fishing business and crew have relied on Alaska Airlines for decades to move throughout Alaska and the lower 48. We’ve been saved by GoldStreak service when we needed critical parts to keep our boat running,” Luck said. “Honestly, your airline rarely disappoints, and we think of you as being synonymous with all the things we admire about the great state of Alaska.”

For many fishermen and companies that make their livelihood in Bristol Bay and other areas in the state of Alaska, fishing is a family affair.

The Bristol Bay salmon run: Known to some fishermen as the 8th Wonder of the World
For many fishermen and companies that make their livelihood in Bristol Bay and other areas in the state of Alaska, fishing is a family affair. Photo courtesy of Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association

Luck’s family has fished salmon, herring, halibut and crab in the state of Alaska since the mid-1970s.

Owner and operator of a gillnetter fishing boat, Michael Jackson says he’s been involved in the Bristol Bay fishing industry for close to 40 years.

“My sons have been raised on the water and currently have permits and a boat of their own,” Jackson says. “We live in Washington state, so short of running the boat back and forth every season, we rely on Alaska Airlines for transportation up and back for emergency freight. We think of Alaska Airlines as a lifeline to Bristol Bay.”

Jackson says that he’s fished throughout the state in many different fisheries and the one constant has always been the service and reliability from Alaska Airlines. “Don’t think for minute that we take it for granted,” Jackson said. “We don’t!”

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