The region’s salmon fisheries are remarkable, even by Alaska’s high standards. Every year, hundreds of individual runs of sockeye salmon run up the Naknek, Kvichak, Egegig, Ugashik, Wood, Nushagak, Igushik and Togiak Rivers to spawn. Together, these runs have sustained the world’s largest wild salmon commercial fishery for over a century.
This commercial fishery continues to be the economic engine of the region and a major contributor to the state and national economy. In 2010 alone, nearly 30 million sockeye were harvested. Commercial fishing and canneries have been the major industries in the region for many decades and account for nearly 75% of local employment.
The Kvichak River, which connects Alaska’s largest freshwater lake (Lake Iliamna) to Bristol Bay, hosts the single largest salmon run on the planet. The Nushagak River supports the largest king salmon run in Alaska.
In 2013, the researchers at the University of Alaska’s Institute for Social and Economic Research completed a study summarizing the far reaching economic impacts of the Bristol Bay commercial sockeye salmon fishery. Harvesting, processing, and retailing Bristol Bay salmon and the multiplier effects of these activities are valued at $1.5 billion annually. The fishery creates an equivalent of about 10,000 U.S. jobs every year, across multiple industries and states. The economic importance of the Bristol Bay salmon industry extends far beyond Alaska, particularly to the West Coast states of Washington, Oregon and California. This fishery has operated continuously for more than 120 years and can continue to provide significant and widespread economic benefits across multiple industries and states for the foreseeable future.
Southwest Alaska also offers some of the finest remote sportfishing and large game, waterfowl, and upland bird hunting opportunities in the world, attracting visitors from around the globe. For decades, Southwest Alaska has been recognized as a world-class sport fishing destination; the region’s bountiful salmon and large trout in pristine environments receives visitation from all over the world. The region’s king crab and halibut fisheries are also extremely lucrative.