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Bristol Bay.

For more than a century, commercial fishing has been the economic backbone of the Bristol Bay region, with hundreds of boats annually plying the bay's rich waters in search of herring and sockeye salmon.

The region supports the largest run of sockeye salmon in the world, and according to the Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association, has averaged 24 million fish per year for the last 30 years. In 1992 commercial crews in the region harvested more than 203 million pounds of sockeye salmon or approximately 70 percent of the world's catch, according to the association. The fish, most of which were sold to Japan, had an ex-vessel value of approximately $274 million. When combined with sales on the secondary market -- including the sale of roe -- the total value for the season was more than $734 million.

Each year thousands of sport fishermen from around the world also pump millions of dollars into the state's economy as they travel to the region to fish its world-class rivers, lakes and streams.

It's not surprising that economic development in the region tends to focus on the fishing industry. Officials with the non-profit Bristol Bay Native Association, for example, are looking at ways to further develop the harvest of clams, shrimp, yellowfin sole, Pacific cod and halibut so the region won't be quite so salmon dependent.

In the last few years several small area businesses also have opened to better serve the region's fishing fleets.

Developers also are eyeing ways to tap into a growing tourism industry that each year shuttles thousands of big game hunters, sport fishermen and wildlife enthusiasts into the region.

A Bristol Bay Native Association-sponsored conference will be held late this year to provide information to those interested in entering the tourism industry. The non-profit Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference also has received a one-year, $325,000 federal grant to promote the region to German-speaking visitors.


The Bristol Bay area has been inhabited for at least 9,000 years and attracted a Native population more diverse than perhaps anywhere else in the state, as Yupik Eskimos, Aleuts and Athabascans settled in the region and began harvesting its rich resources. Capt. James Cook was the first white man to see -- or at least write of -- his travels through the bay, immediately taking note of its salmon resources. "It |Bristol Bay~ must abound with salmon, as we saw many leaping in the sea before the entrance..." he wrote in July, 1778.

Although Russian explorers were slow to discover the area -- and even slower to discover its great wealth of fish -- it's believed they eventually snuck in the region's back door in 1791 by way of Cook Inlet.

The Russians were just gearing up to fish the bay when the United States purchased Alaska in 1867. The first major fishing enterprise was launched in 1883 when the schooner "Neptune" entered the bay and the Arctic Pack Company built a cannery at Nushagak. Two years later, a second cannery was built on the west side of Nushagak Bay, and a year later, a third one opened on a site that would later become part of the city of Dillingham.

The lay of the land was forever changed in 1912 when Mount Novarupta erupted, spewing pumice and rock that eventually covered 40 square miles in the Katmai area -- today called the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes -- at depths of up to 700 feet. Ash from the volcano traveled across Shelikof Strait, terrifying residents of Kodiak and causing the temporary evacuation of the island's women and children. Six years later, an influenza epidemic in the Bristol Bay area killed scores of residents and in many cases wiped out entire villages.

The area's more recent history includes changes in the commercial fishing industry that bars foreign fleets from fishing within 200 miles of U.S. shores and a 1991 boycott of local fish buyers after salmon's ex-vessel price dropped to 40 cents a pound.

The Lake & Peninsula Borough was formed in 1989 in response to concerns that adjoining government entities were encroaching on the area.


The greater Bristol Bay region -- including the Lake Clark/Lake Iliamna area -- covers 55,000 square miles of some of the state's most beautiful country. Described by others as "a world unto itself" and "Alaska's epitome," the region includes lush green forests, open, treeless tundra, jagged mountains, fast-moving rivers, massive glaciers, freshwater lakes, flat valleys, secluded streams, narrow mountain passes and the aftermath of a volcanic eruption that occurred 80 years ago. The region, about the size of Ohio, contains portions of three national parks and three national wildlife refuges, as well as the Ahklun, Wood River, Taylor and Chigmit mountains and the Alaska-Aleutian Range.

Bristol Bay spans about 270 miles from Port Moeller on the south to Cape Newenham on the north, and then 200 miles eastward to the mouths of the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers. Comparatively shallow, this massive, salmon-rich bay washes up along roughly 600 miles of shoreline and surrounds a sprinkling of islands to the north, just east of Cape Newenham. Two deep bays, two large river basins and a total of 10 major rivers flow into Bristol Bay.

Sockeye salmon, for which the area is famous, begin their lives in the region's tributaries and lakes, including Lake Clark and Lake Iliamna, which, at 1,000 square miles, is the state's largest. Six of the state's ten largest lakes are found in the region. Forests, including stands of spruce, poplar, birch and willow, cover another 2.74 million acres.


The Bristol Bay region falls within three climatic zones: maritime, continental and transitional. The maritime zone includes coastal areas and off-shore islands and is characterized by comparatively mild temperatures and heavy precipitation, mostly rain. The continental zone includes most of the northern and interior parts of the region and is characterized by relatively warm summers, cold winters and less precipitation than in the maritime zone. As its name implies, the transitional zone is noted for temperatures and precipitation levels that fall somewhere in between. That said, the weather in the Bristol Bay region is generally cool, overcast and rainy.

Mountains separate Bristol Bay from Cook Inlet's more moderate weather, with solid ice found in the bay from November to early April. Freezeup and breakup on the river usually precedes that of the bay by about two weeks.

Conditions in Dillingham include:

* Average summer temperature range is 37 degrees to 65 degrees F.

* Average winter temperature range is 7 degrees to 30 degrees F.

* Extreme temperatures are -41 degrees to 92 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation is 26 inches (includes 65 inches of snow).

Conditions in Iliamna include:

* Average summer temperature range is 38 degrees to 62 degrees F.

* Average winter temperature range is 7 degrees to 18 degrees F.

* Extreme temperatures are -47 degrees to 91 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation 26 inches (includes 64 inches of snow).

Economy & Employment

State labor statistics do not include the number of people who commercially fish in a particular region, but the Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association estimates that about 10,000 people work at set nets or on drift boats in the bay each summer.

Officials with the Bering Sea Fishermen's Association have in the recent past estimated that the local salmon fishery constitutes about 75 percent of the area's income and that its value to the region is approximately $200 million a year.

According to the Alaska Department of Labor, manufacturing -- which in this region means fish processing -- in 1990 was the No. 1 supplier of jobs, providing 33 percent of the jobs in the Dillingham and Lake Clark regions and 34 percent in Bristol Bay.

State labor figures indicate that, after manufacturing, local and federal governments (including the military), the service industry (including guides and lodge owners) and transportation, communication and utilities provide most of the rest of the region's jobs. Subsistence, including fishing, farming and trapping, still plays an important role in the region's economy.

State economists tabulated 1991's unemployment rate for Bristol Bay of 5.4 percent and a rate of 5.5 percent for Dillingham and the Lake and Peninsula region. The number can go as high as 60 percent in the winter.

Commercial Centers

Geography and the limited number of roads in the area force communities in the Bristol Bay and Lake Clark/Lake Iliamna region to be basically free-standing. Most have their own health clinic and school. King Salmon, Naknek and Dillingham serve as commercial, transportation and/or administrative centers.

King Salmon, home to the King Salmon Air Force Base, is a major transportation hub for those flying into the region. It also is the site of several government offices and, oddly enough, the borough headquarters for the Lake & Peninsula Borough, of which King Salmon is not even a part.

Restaurants and lodging are available as are retail outlets. Goods and services are available 15 miles down river in Naknek, which, to a large extent, serves the needs of the area's commercial fishing fleet.

Dillingham, across on Nushagak Bay, is the region's largest community and as such also provides key services and support facilities to other surrounding communities. It is the gateway to more than 70 wilderness camps and lodges and to Wood-Tikchik State Park.

Goods and services available in Dillingham include grocery and department stores, hotels, restaurants, marine and fisheries-related businesses, repair services and specialty shops. Banking facilities and legal services are available and the regional hospital is located here.


A few simple calculations are all that's needed to back up the assertion that the Bristol Bay region is one of the most sparsely settled areas in Alaska. With a total population, according to the 1990 census, of just 7,090, the region represents a scant .013 percent of the state's entire population.

Median age in the region falls in the mid to high 20s, with the highest concentrations of Natives found in the Dillingham census area and the Lake & Peninsula Borough. The villages of New Stuyahok, Manokotak and Newhalen each have Native populations just above or below 95 percent, with the Native population in Newhalen closely divided among Eskimos and Aleuts.

Very few African-Americans live in the region, with none counted as living in the Lake & Peninsula Borough. At just 2.7 percent, the Bristol Bay Borough has the highest percentage of African-Americans living within its boundaries, many perhaps associated with the air force base at King Salmon.

Area Natives are represented by the regional Bristol Bay Native Corporation, as well as the non-profit Bristol Bay Native Association and several local village corporations.

The following 1990 census figures provide a demographic snapshot of the region:

Bristol Bay Borough

(Includes King Salmon, Naknek and South Naknek)

* Population: 1,410 (1980: 1,094)

* Median age: 30 years

* Proportion of population under age 18:25 percent

* Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians account for 32.3 percent of the population

* Median value of a home: $102,000

* Per capita income: $29,755 (1989)

Lake & Peninsula Borough

* Population: 1,668 (1980: 1,384)

* Median age: 27 years

* Proportion of population under age 18: 38 percent

* Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians account for 75.6 percent of the population

* Median value of a home: $67,100

* Per capita income: N/A

Dillingham Census Area

* Population: 4,012 (1980: 3,232)

* Median age: 27 years

* Proportion of population under age 18:37 percent

* Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians account for 72.9 percent of the population

* Median value of a home: $63,300

* Per capita income: $18,171


Bristol Bay residents are described as uniquely independent and unflappable. For most, their lives -- and thus their style of living -- are tied to the salmon industry. During the summer, the vast majority of area residents fish, either on their own boats or as a crew member on someone else's.

Subsistence activities also occupy a lot of time but when it's time to relax, area residents tend to enjoy what other Alaskans enjoy -- being outdoors. Leisure activities here include hiking, beachcombing, swimming, hunting, trapping, organized sports, ice skating, snowmachining, berry picking and sport or ice fishing.

Transportation & Communication

There are very few roads in the Bristol Bay and Lake Clark/Lake Iliamna region. A 15-mile portage road -- used most frequently to haul boats across the Chigmit Mountains to Lake Iliamna and on to Bristol Bay -- connects Iliamna Bay on Cook Inlet with the inland village of Pile Bay.

A second road links the villages of Iliamna and Newhalen and then travels up river to Nondalton, while a third, 15-mile road connects King Salmon with the city of Naknek. However, it does not extend across the river to South Naknek, forcing school children there to hop a daily plane so they can attend classes across the river in Naknek. A fourth road connects the commercial hub of Dillingham with the village of Aleknagik, 25 miles to the north.

Road development makes little sense, at least for now. "The development of major roads not related to resource development is unlikely in the region over the next 20 years," wrote the authors of the mid-80s Bristol Bay Regional Management Plan.

Commercial airlines flying from Anchorage, Homer and Kenai provide regularly-scheduled passenger, mail and cargo service to Bristol Bay communities, with air taxi companies providing additional service to communities throughout the region and to remote hunting and fishing lodges. Barge service is available year-around to most communities, with more frequent trips made during the summer. However, some communities receive barge shipments just twice a year.

Residents in the area may read newspapers from around the state in addition to receiving Dillingham's Bristol Bay Times and the Bristol Bay News, published from Anchorage. Residents on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula may read the Kodiak Mirror. Public radio station KDLG broadcasts out of Dillingham and there is also a commercial station in Naknek. Television programming is carried over the Rural Alaska Television Network and by local cable companies.


The Bristol Bay and Lake Clark/Lake Iliamna region is a sportsman's paradise, attracting big game hunters and sport fishermen from around the world. Five species of Pacific salmon are found in the area, with the early king run beginning in June, followed by pinks, reds, chums and silvers. Rainbow trout weighing in at 10 pounds, grayling, pike, Dolly Varden, whitefish, lake trout, arctic char and candlefish can also be fished in the region.

Big game hunters stalk the region in search of moose, caribou and grizzlies, while those interested in shooting only photographs jockey for position at McNeil River State Game Sanctuary as grizzlies there feed on chum salmon. Round Island in Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary is the largest walrus haulout in the world, attracting up to 15,000 animals. Beluga whales, fresh and salt water seals and sea lions also are found in the area.

The Bristol Bay region is also a birders' haven, attracting millions of migrating birds each year. More than 140 species -- many in vast numbers -- have been recorded in the area.

Hiking and boating are also popular activities, especially in Wood-Tikchik State Park, which at 1.6 million acres is the largest state park in the United States. Katmai National Park and Preserve covers four million acres and provides scenery like nowhere else in Alaska. Its Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes boasts a 30-square-mile moonscape of yellow, red and tan ash; active, steaming fumaroles; and pumice rocks that actually float.

Snowmachine and sled dog races attract spectators in the winter and spring, and Dillingham's Beaver Roundup in early March is a welcome break from the long winter.

Local Government & Taxes

Following is a list of the incorporated cities and villages throughout the Bristol Bay and Lake Clark/Lake Iliamna region, their forms of government and tax rates. Included are communities of 100 or more year-round residents, based on the 1990 census. It should be noted that although they have well over 100 residents, the communities of King Salmon, Naknek and South Naknek are unincorporated and so are not listed. However, they are part of the Bristol Bay Borough. Tribal governments are also found in several of the villages.

* Aleknagik: Second class city; mayor/council government; no sales or special taxes

* Bristol Bay Borough: Second class borough; manager and council/assembly government; no sales tax; 3 percent raw fish tax

* Chignik: Second class city; mayor/council government; no sales or special taxes

* Dillingham: First class city; manager and mayor/council government; 5 percent sales tax; no special taxes

* Lake & Peninsula Borough: Home rule borough; manager, mayor/assembly government; no sales tax; 2 percent raw fish tax

* Manokotak: Second class city; manager, mayor/council government; 2 percent sales tax; no special taxes

* New Stuyahok: Second class city; mayor/council government; no sales or special taxes

* Newhalen: Second class city; mayor/council government; no sales or special taxes

* Nondalton: Second class city; mayor/council government; no sales or special taxes

* Pilot Point: Second class city; mayor/council government; no sales tax; 3 percent raw fish tax

* Port Heiden: Second class city; mayor/council government; no sales tax; no special taxes

* Togiak: Second class city; mayor/council government; 2 percent sales tax; 2 percent raw fish tax

Land Ownership

As they do across Alaska, state and federal governments own or manage much of the land in the Bristol Bay area. An official with the Bristol Bay Native Association estimates that state and federal governments each occupy about 40 percent of the region's land, while the remaining 20 percent is held by private landowners and regional and village Native corporations. A glance at the Department of the Interior's land status shows much of the land designated as national wildlife refuges or state and national parks.



Aleknagik: P.O. Box 33, Aleknagik, AK 99555; (907) 842-5953

Bristol Bay Borough: P.O. Box 189, Naknek, AK 99633; (907) 246-4224

Chignik: P.O. Box 110, Chignik, AK 99564; (907) 749-2280

Dillingham: P.O. Box 889, Dillingham, AK 99576; (907) 842-5211

Lake & Peninsula Borough: P.O. Box 495, King Salmon, AK 99613; (907) 246-3421

Manokotak: P.O. Box 170, Manokotak, AK 99628; (907) 289-1027

New Stuyahok: P.O. Box 10, New Stuyahok, AK 99636; (907) 693-3171

Newhalen: P.O. Box 165, Newhalen, AK 99606; (907) 571-1226

Nondalton: General Delivery, Nondalton, AK 99640; (907) 294-2235

Pilot Point: P.O. Box 430, Pilot Point, AK 99649; (907) 797-2200

Port Heiden: P.O. Box 490, Port Heiden, AK 99549; (907) 837-2209

Togiak: P.O. Box 99, Togiak, AK 99678-0099; (907) 493-5820


Dillingham Chamber of Commerce: P.O. Box 348, Dillingham, AK 99576; (907) 840p5.52-5115

Tourism & Economic Development

Alaska's Southwest: 3300 Arctic Blvd., Suite 203, Anchorage, AK 99503; (907) 562-7380

Department of Community & Regional Affairs: P.O. Box 295 Dillingham, AK 99576-0295; (907) 842-5135

Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference: 3300 Arctic Blvd., Suite 203, Anchorage, AK 99503; (907) 562-7380

Various village corporations.


Bristol Bay Native Association:

P.O. Box 310, Dillingham, AK 99576; (907) 842-5257

Bristol Bay Native Corporation: P.O. Box 100220, Anchorage, AK 99510; (907) 278-3602

Various village corporations.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Know Alaska
Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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Next Article:ANCSA corporations: a look at 1991.

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