A little bit of controversy this year for Fat Bear Week. Otis beat out Walker for the fattest bear of Brooks Falls. This may have been a bit of a popularity contest in 2021, with Team Otis coming out in droves to vote for the fan favorite. With that said, it is hard to dismiss the amount of weight that Otis put on in just a few short months. It was a lot of poundage, especially considering that Otis showed up at the river later than usual this summer, and that he is now missing two canine teeth, and many of his teeth are worn down.
Congrats to the now 4-Time Champ, and best wishes in the off season.
Otis is no newcomer to Fat Bear Week. A three time winner of the championship, Otis was the inaugural winner back in 2014. He also took the title in 2016 & 2017. First identified at Brooks Falls in 2001, he is one of the older bears in Katmai. A patient fisher, Otis rarely chases salmon, and has one of the higher catch rates at Brooks Falls. One of Katmai’s all-time fan favorites, the aging bruin once again appears in the finals.
Walker first showed up at Brooks Falls in 2009 as a two year old. Once known as a tolerant, playful bear, Walker has become a lot less tolerant as he has aged. As he has grown into a larger, dominate male, Walker has realized he can throw his weight around to gain prime fishing spots. Estimated to have weighed in at 1000 pounds last autumn, Walker looks to be even bigger in 2021.
Voting for the title round takes place today. Polls close at 5pm ADT.
We have some big names going belly to belly right out of the gate for Fat Bear Week. Holly & Grazer face off, and Popeye takes on Walker on Day One. Day Two has 402, and perennial fan favorite Otis going up against each other.
Bear 503, 747 “Wide Body”, Chunk and 132 all get first round byes.
Bear 132 is a spring cub. 132 is one of two surviving cubs from a litter of three. It put on a lot of weight, and a lot of hair. In the September photo, 132 weighs an estimated sixty pounds.
Bear 128 is a yearling, and the daughter of fan favorite Grazer. Grazer is a bold salmon catcher, and 128 is following that lead. By the end of this summer, 128 was catching her own leaping salmon. Park staff have not seen a yearling regularly catch salmon from the lip of Brooks Falls. A future Fat Bear Champion in the making?
Much of Alaska is seeing diminished returns of salmon this summer. One bright spot is Bristol Bay, and in particular, the Nushagak River. Bristol Bay is the place to be for salmon, and it is really hot in 2021. The Nushagak saw a record number of sockeyes caught last week, with more than 1,820,000 and 1,770,000 fish landed on consecutive days. That’s seeing a lot of red.
We already knew that the King Salmon run for the Yukon River was going to be dismal, but now word is coming out that the chum run looks to be equally bleak. This is a real blow to subsistence users throughout the Yukon basin and all its tributaries.
At the end of June, only 31,000 chum salmon had passed the Pilot Station sonar. The historic average for that date is 500,000 chum salmon. The count is the lowest on record.
Not surprisingly, the Chinook and chum salmon fisheries have been closed throughout the Yukon River system due to the low returns.
For the first time, a company in Massachusetts is delivering genetically modified salmon to the dinner tables of U.S. households.
The bioengineered salmon, is actually the genetic mixing of three different fish: Atlantic salmon, Chinook salmon and the eel-like, Ocean Pout. The modified hybrid grows to market size in 18 months, which is half what it takes for a salmon to mature in the natural world.
In Alaska, the bioengineered fish are often called Frankenfish, and they have not been well received. A store or restaurant that offers farmed fish, will take heat for it, and often lose customers. I would be very surprised to see anyone in state, offer the genetically modified fish, where fishing for a living, is so vital to the economy.
Sockeye salmon are being caught at the mouth of Resurrection Bay. Fishing should/hopefully improve over the coming weeks. Like every season, the Return of the Sockeye is an inexact science. Bristol Bay is expecting a great return, the Copper River, not so much. For the rest of us in-between? Time will tell.
For the past decade, my little group of salmon chasers have seen full freezers in odd years, and a battle to fill, in even years. I’m looking forward to seeing if that trend continues, as I have a near empty freezer.
Artwork by the ever talented, slightly twisted, and all-Alaskan: Ray Troll
Early numbers on returning sockeye salmon to the Copper River are not encouraging. Less than 64,000 sockeyes have gone past the Department of Fish & Game’s sonar tower. That is less than half the goal of 148,000 returning spawners, putting 2021 at 13th on the worst year list.
News of the returning numbers come as the personal use, dip net fishery will see its first open window on Thursday June 10. For 96 hours, permitted Alaskans can take home 25 salmon for the head of household, and an additional 10 for each dependent. Only one of these can be a king salmon. This first window will be 72 hours shorter than expected due to the low return.
Salmon prices are sky high right now, with kings going for $19.60 a pound, and sockeyes a respectable $12.60. In 2020 the salmon netted $6.00 and $4.00 respectively.
Commercial fisherman have seen three 12 hour fishing periods in May.