Coronavirus concerns mount as Bristol Bay salmon season prepares to open

Two months ago, local leaders in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay begged the state’s governor to consider canceling the commercial sockeye salmon season. They feared that Covid-19 would spread through the region’s small villages, which have scant health resources. Despite those concerns, preparations for the Bristol Bay fishery, which opens at the end of the month, are barreling ahead, and some 10,000 fishermen and processing plant workers from across the state, the country, and the world are set to descend on the region.

But now, as Covid-19 cases are growing across the state — as of June 9, it had recorded more than 600 cases — there is concern that the $5.2 billion industry could be in jeopardy, writes Miranda Weiss in FERN’s latest story.

The state says it is tracing contacts of all confirmed cases, and there have been no documented instances of out-of-state workers transmitting the virus locally. Still, that doesn’t allay community fears. “About 90 percent of my village are at risk,” said Lorianne Rawson, tribal administrator for the Native Village of South Naknek, where the commercial salmon industry has had a foothold since the 1890s. She is particularly worried about village elders and those with underlying health conditions, she said.