CEDS – Bristol Bay

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Overview of Regional Condition:

The Bristol Bay Region has a mixed economy of cash and subsistence. Combining cash-paying jobs and subsistence activities is the way most households sustain themselves throughout the year. Most importantly, subsistence activities (hunting, fishing, berry picking, preserving food and sharing) are part of the Alaska Native culture. Many local artisans continue to use arts and crafts to supplement their cash needs. Ivory carving, woodworking, grass basketry, skin sewing, beading, and painting are popular art forms that can be found. Statewide gatherings such as the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention provides an opportunity for artists to sell elaborately decorated skin sewn parkas, mukluks, cleverly designed ivory figurines, and ornately fashioned beaded jewelry and hangings.

The people of Bristol Bay have a strong, shared vision for the future that envisions committed families, continued connection to our lands and waters, community, culture, subsistence, capacity, support, and economic opportunity for Bristol Bay tribes, so that people who are educated, creative, well-prepared for life, and have with economic opportunities. While this shared vision is strong and the people of Bristol Bay hold tremendous skills and knowledge, communities still face barriers that routinely hinder them from reaching the thriving, healthy and self-determined communities they envision. The community condition in Bristol Bay communities have a high average unemployment rate of 8.33%, the average per capita income is $25,049 with the poverty level at 26.52%, and an average outmigration of 157 people over the past five years.

Full time employment in some of the regions’ smaller communities is generally limited to the schools and community and government services. Some factors such as lack of employment opportunities, lack of employment skills that could potentially secure long-term employment, substance abuse and generally low-paying jobs affect this region’s persistent unemployment among its working age class. There are some part-time, seasonal and on-call positions that are available such as cashiers, teacher aids and or substitutes, laborers and the like. There is also a great need to continue to provide small business technical assistance to area residents in this region.

The Bristol Bay region is home to 31 federally recognized Tribes from three major Indigenous groups – the Yup’ik, Dena’ina and Alutiiq peoples who have stewarded the lands and waters for time immemorial. Seventy-five, point six percent (75.6%) of the approximately 7,177 people who live in the region are Alaska Native, many of whom continue to practice traditional ways of life passed down from their ancestors.

The Bristol Bay region includes 27.5 million acres of land– an area roughly the size of Ohio – and countless streams, rivers, wetlands, and estuaries. The region is ecologically intact with all marine, coastal, freshwater, and terrestrial resources naturally functioning and connected. Bristol Bay’s lands and waters produce the largest wild salmon runs in the world. Two of Bristol Bay’s river systems, the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, produce half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and the Nushagak is one of the largest producers of Chinook salmon in the world. Salmon are the lifeblood of the region, providing health and well-being for the people of Bristol Bay and supporting subsistence, commercial and sport fishing.

Communities in Bristol Bay are remote. The entire region is “off the road system,” and air travel as the only commercial source of transportation into the region. Inter-region travel between communities takes place by plane, boat, or snow mobile as there are limited roads connecting communities.

Within the Bristol Bay region, there are two boroughs, 31 tribal nations, 13 municipal governments, three census areas, 24 village corporations, one regional corporation, and private landholdings and Alaska Native allotments, plus lands and waters managed by the State of Alaska, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. Community populations are small, with often a population of less than one hundred people, and existing leaders must take on many different responsibilities in their communities to manage these complexities and access resources. The historic impacts of colonialism and systems imposed upon the region by outside interests continue to have profound impacts to the people of the region, not only challenging community capacity but also resulting in significant historical trauma. Even in modern times, the systems suppress the local culture by being out of sync with local customs, values, and traditions, and social inequity and institutional racism are apparent. This strain compounded by the remote nature communities and the significant cost of travel challenge the implementation of the unified goals for regional prosperity and sustainable economic development as described in the Bristol Bay Regional Vision.

These factors contribute to high unemployment rate of 8.33% in Bristol Bay – 7.7% in the Lake and Peninsula Borough, 10.7% in the Bristol Bay Borough and 6.6% in the Dillingham Census Area as of December 2021.  Local government continues to be the primary employer he primary employer in Bristol Bay (AK Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Worker Residency by Industry Bristol Bay 2019 & 2020). While the commercial fishing industry is thriving and offers seasonal and temporary opportunities, local access to participate has declined since the start of the State’s limited entry system in 1975. Across Bristol Bay, there has been a 50% decrease in local State commercial fishing permits, and the average age of local fishermen continues to increase. These impacts are inequitably felt in smaller and more rural communities, especially those that do not have the economic benefits of the Community Development Quota (CDQ) Program such as those around the Lake Iliamna and Chignik Area subregions.

The Bristol Bay region is dominated by the commercial sockeye salmon industry. The commercial fishing industry is a multi-million-dollar industry that saw 42.1 million fish harvested in 2021 with an ex-vessel value of $251.4 million, between the Bristol Bay and Chignik Management Areas. Most households in the Region participate in commercial fishing either directly or in a support business. Commercial fishing is the historical mainstay of the economy. The fishing industry brings seasonal employment and brings in a large influx of hired labor during the summer months. With the salmon season lasting three months (late May through July), the seasonal fluctuations of the salmon stocks play a major part in the economic conditions of these communities.

There are agencies that aid and funding to relieve economic distress, but further proactive planning and development is needed to become more self-sufficient and sustainable. Often when a community is in distressed the process for implementing economic relief is slow to respond.

Without many job opportunities or adequate training for labor needs, many people have left the region to look for opportunities in larger cities like Anchorage or in the Lower 48. Between 2010 and 2020, there was a net migration of –1,116 people from the Bristol Bay population. This loss is felt heavily in more rural communities where population drops have caused some schools to close as people leave communities. The local schools are key to community survival – when a school closes, often all families with school-aged children leave, and not long after the community is abandoned. Since the 1970s, the following schools have closed in Bristol Bay: Ekuk (late 1970s), Portage Creek (late 1980s), Ivanof Bay (2002), South Naknek (2007), Pedro Bay (2012), and Egegik (2015). As of school year 2019-2020, the following schools are just one family away from closing with a student count of fifteen or less: Chignik Bay, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Clarks Point, Ekwok, and Pilot Point.

Meanwhile, internship opportunities and jobs go unfilled because residents do not have the career path awareness and assistance they need to fill the positions. Contractors or consultants are often brought in from outside the region instead of being able to fill the positions with educated, skilled people from Bristol Bay (Andrew, K. (2019-2021). Interviews with Workforce Development Programs from: State of Alaska Department of Labor, BBNC Shareholder Development, BBEDC Internship Program, BBNA Workforce Development Director.).

There are programs in place in Bristol Bay to support leadership and skill building, but these programs focus on high-school aged students, those who are already on a leadership track with years of experience or are industry-specific technical training programs. Additionally, a lack of consistent career counseling in schools have young people ill prepared to take on leadership roles in their communities and without the needed knowledge and skills to fully understand the complexities of governmental and natural resource management systems and their inherent sovereign rights as Indigenous peoples, this has help influence the pilot project called Ciulistet: Emerging Leaders Program.

Climate

            Much of life in rural Alaska is influenced by extreme weather conditions and a cold climate. The Bristol Bay Region spans three different climatic zones: the Arctic Climate of the interior, the Maritime Climate of the coastal areas, and a Transitional Climatic zone in between.

Inland (Arctic) Zone, average temperatures can range from 42 to 64 degrees F in the summer and 3 to 30 degrees F in winter. Average annual precipitation ranges from 26-32 inches including 64-89 inches of snow.

            In the Maritime Zone, average summer temperatures range from 42 to 63; average winter temperatures range from 4 to 44, although the wind chill factors are substantial on the coast. Average annual precipitation is twenty inches annually, including 45-93 inches of snowfall. Weather on the Alaskan coast is described as cool, windy, and wet year-round with foggy summers.

            The Transitional Zone average summer temperatures range is from 30 to 66; winter temperatures range from below zero to thirty. Annual precipitation ranges from 20 to 35 inches and summers are foggy and cloudy.

            Much of the region is icebound six months of the year except for the coastal villages on the lower Alaska Peninsula. Rivers in the Bristol Bay region are ice-free from June through mid-November (Alaska State Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA) Community Database). Potential impacts from the future warming of the region’s climate have not been fully analyzed. Preliminary data collected from Bristol Bay residents suggest that a warming climate has already had some impact on wildlife behavior (Lowe, 2007).

Climate Change

            Climate change has been impacting Alaska at a faster rate than the continental United States. Air and Sea Surface temperatures have been rising impacting the sea ice in Alaska. “Sea ice plays a profound role in the climate, environment, and economies of Alaska. Nothing in the Alaska environment is changing faster than sea ice. Sea ice moderates regional temperatures and moisture, determines the structure of the marine food web, and shapes what people can or can’t do: from subsistence hunting and travel to resource extraction and national security.” These changes in water and air temperature as well as sea ice accumulation has also been impacting the Bristol Bay Region, causing spawning fish to die off prematurely as they travel upriver to spawn, limiting subsistence activities, increased wildfires, and coastal erosion.  

Education

            Education is one of the most key areas for influencing economic development. Most communities in the Region have a primary school and fewer communities have a high school. Many schools in the Bristol Bay Region are small, some with twenty or fewer students with a range of grade levels in one classroom. If school enrollment drops below 10 students, the school is closed, and people typically move to a larger community. School closure causes a rapid decline in the village population. In communities without a high school, students go to boarding schools or boarding homes in communities with a high school. In most villages, schools serve as community centers for large community gatherings.

            There are four school districts in the region that provide primary and secondary education and receive supplemental funds from Federal grants and programs such as Johnson O’Malley, Migrant Education, and Indian Education. They include: The Bristol Bay Borough School District, the Lake & Peninsula School District, Dillingham City School District, and the Southwest Region School District.  There is a Head Start operated by BBNA that provides early learning opportunities for young children. There is a private Seventh Day Adventist Church School in Dillingham, and numerous online home school options. Post-secondary education is provided by the University of Alaska Fairbanks-Bristol Bay Campus and the Southwest Alaska Vocational Education Center.

BBNA Head Start

            Bristol Bay Native Association in partnership with the State and Federal agencies provides Head Start to children ages three to five years old. Head Start’s mission is to promote and develop the education, health, culture and wellbeing of our children, families, and communities. Head Start services are family centered, and are in Togiak, New Stuyahok, Manokotak, and Dillingham.

Dillingham City School District

            Dillingham City School District consists of an elementary school, middle/high school, and Maximum Achievement Program (MAP) school. (DCSD) The Dillingham City School District has an enrollment of 427 children. the City of Dillingham operate the Dillingham City School District.

Bristol Bay Borough School District

            Bristol Bay Borough School District serves the communities of Naknek, King Salmon, and South Naknek. Students from King Salmon are bused to Naknek and the South Naknek children are flown across the river. (BBBSD) The Bristol Bay Borough School District has an enrollment of 113 students.  

Lake and Peninsula School District

            Lake and Peninsula School District (LPSD) serves fifteen (15) schools in the Bristol Bay Region:  Chignik Bay School, Chignik Lagoon School, Chignik Lake School, Dena’ina School (Pedro Bay) Egegik School, Igiugig School, Kokhanok School, Levelock School, Meshik (Port Heiden), Newhalen School, Nondalton School, Perryville School, and Pilot Point School totaling 351 pupils.

Southwest Region School District

            Southwest Region School District (SWRSD) began operations as a State funded Rural Educational Attendance Area (REAA) in 1976. SWRSD’s Central Office is located in Dillingham and serves nine village schools:  Aleknagik School, Chief Ivan Blunka School (New Stuyahok), Koliganek School, Manokotak School, Togiak School, Twin Hills School, and William “Sonny” Nelson School (Ekwok) with 574 students enrolled.

According to the Department of Education and Early Development, graduation rates in the region are at 78.9 % (Alaska Department of Education & Early Development; Data Center, Five Year Graduation Rate by District, 2021). Eligible for free or reduced lunches averages at 82% for children who meet the State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development eligibility guidelines. School districts student eligibility for free and reduced lunches can be an economic indicator of employment opportunities or in such case, a lack of wages in the region.

Southwest Alaska Vocational & Education Center

            Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center (SAVEC) is a non-profit Rapid Response Training Center, located in the Bristol Bay Borough. SAVEC provides industry-driven education in occupations essential for Alaskans to fill 70-80% of state jobs that do not require a college degree. SAVEC’s educational training focus is on community, industry and agency needs.

            SAVEC provides innovative, customized, rapid response, high quality training and skill development. SAVEC and its partners help businesses, regional organizations, village councils, government agencies, and other organizations develop and deliver workforce development programs that increase jobs in the region. It is one of the most advanced classroom technology centers in the state utilizing Smart Board Technology, Audio Conferencing, Video Conferencing (VTC), Distance Education, and Wireless Networking throughout its facility. SAVEC’s outdoor laboratory makes a perfect setting for programs such as Heavy Equipment Operator Training, Construction Truck Operations (CDL) and Driver’s Education allowing students hands-on experience.

University of Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus

            Regional opportunities for higher education include University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus (BBC) located in Dillingham, Alaska with four satellite campuses located in New Stuyahok, Togiak, King Salmon and Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. The campus offers a broad range of courses that are available by audio or video conference. BBC provides vocational/technical and academic courses to this region’ communities. Most students are enrolled part time because they have jobs, children, or other community responsibilities.

Geographic Location

The Bristol Bay Native Association serves 31 federally recognized Tribes in the Bristol Bay Region of southwest Alaska. The region is about 46,573 square miles, roughly the size of the state of Ohio. The Regional boundaries were defined in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. It is rural, rugged, and remote with no road access to the outside world. It is located approximately 323 air miles southwest of Anchorage with daily commercial flights to Dillingham and King Salmon. The region is outlined by three mountain ranges with the Kilbuck Mountains to the northwest, the Taylor Mountains to the north, and the Aleutian Range to the east along the Alaska Peninsula. From these mountains, the Becharof Lake, Naknek Lake, Lake Iliamna, Lake Clark and Wood Tikchik Lakes are formed and flow into the eight major river systems: the Togiak River, Wood River, Nushagak River, Kvichak River, Naknek River, Egegik River, Ugashik River, Meshik River, and Chignik River reaching the sea on the Bristol Bay and Pacific coastlines.

The habitat is mostly pristine, intact, and unchanged for thousands of years providing a wide variety of other aquatic and natural resources. The watersheds serve as the habitat for five species of salmon, herring, and halibut. Most lowlands are covered with moist spongy tundra, with scattered Birch, Cottonwood, Willow, and Spruce Trees. The lakes, rivers and streams have led travelers, writer, or explorer to remark that it is “a wet place indeed” (Dobb, Dec 2010). The area is predominantly coastal; however, most villages are also on lakeshores or along rivers.

The BBNA’s service area includes the tribal communities of Aleknagik, Chignik Bay, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Clarks Point, Dillingham, Egegik, Ekuk, Ekwok, Igiugig, Iliamna, Ivanof Bay, Kanatak, King Salmon, Kokhanok, Koliganek, Levelock, Manokotak, Naknek, New Stuyahok, Nondalton, Pedro Bay, Perryville, Pilot Point, Port Heiden, Portage Creek, South Naknek, Togiak, Twin Hills, and Ugashik.

Bristol Bay

Three major Indigenous groups have lived in the region since time immemorial. The people of the Lake Iliamna area are Dena’ina Athabascan; Yup’ik are on the coast between Togiak and the Alaska Peninsula; and Alutiiq are on the Alaska Peninsula.  Traditionally, our people were nomadic and moved around between seasonal camps as they followed the seasons of traditional food harvests. This migration pattern allowed for the different Alaska Native cultures of the region to interact, trade, and influence each other’s communities. At times, this nomadic lifestyle brought people to and from other parts of Alaska, such as the northern Bethel region or southern Aleutian Chain. The Alaska Native population for the region is 75.6% of the total population.


Land Ownership

Bristol Bay Region has equal land ownership demonstrated by, the Land Ownership diagram, by the State of Alaska, which manages 41% of the land base and 40% by the Federal Government. Most of this is Parks and Refuges. Alaska Native Corporations own 13% of the land base and Bureau of Land Management manages 6% of the lands.

Energy

            Electrical infrastructure in the Bristol Bay region varies by ownership. Most of the communities in the region are part of a Cooperative model where the customers are members of the public energy utility. The Village Councils, Cities and Village Corporations also own and/or operate the utilities in the region, and a few are privately owned.

            Bristol Bay Rural communities rely primarily on diesel electric generators for power. The average home in the region is 1,232 square feet and uses 136,000 BTUs of energy per square foot annually. This is close to the statewide average of 137,000 BTUs per square foot per year. Two-thirds (66%) is used for space heating, 16 percent for hot water, and 18 percent for electricity.

            For most communities in the Bristol Bay region, there are two sets of electric rates: the residential electric rate, which is set by the utility based on cost of electricity production and profit share (if applicable); and the effective rate of electricity, which is a reduced rate paid by residents in communities enrolled in the Power Cost Equalization Program (PCE).

            The goal of the Alaska’s Power Cost Equalization (PCE) program is to provide economic assistance to customers in rural areas of Alaska were, in many instances, the kilowatt-hour charge for electricity can be three to five times higher than the most urban areas of the state. The program seeks to equalize the power cost per kilowatt-hour statewide. However, even with PCE rural electric costs are 2-3 times higher than urban energy costs.

Fuel

            Currently, heating fuel #1, commonly referred to as diesel, provides most heating needs for the Bristol Bay region for all sectors:  residential, commercial, public, and industrial. There are several residential homes and commercial operators supplementing space heating with a wood biomass. There are several schools utilizing “waste heat” in conjunction with the local utility to provide some space heating. The Bristol Bay Housing Authority (BBHA) supports the installation of wood stoves to supplement or serve as a back-up heating system in residential homes. The Lake and Peninsula Borough is pursuing the installation of wood boilers for community facilities where the resource is available. Some communities lack consistent access to wood to offset diesel consumption.

            In most rural communities’ electricity is expensive, unreliable, and solely dependent on diesel-powered generation to produce power. Fuel delivery to most of the Bristol Bay communities is limited to barge delivery storing enough fuel to last the year. The average home in the region is 1,232 square feet and uses 136,000 BTUs of energy per square foot annually. This is close to the statewide average of 137,000 BTUs per square foot per year. Two-thirds (66%) is used for space heating, 16 percent for hot water, and 18 percent for electricity. Fuel prices are high in the Bristol Bay region. The current average price for heating fuel is $5.13 per gallon; $7.00 high and $3.96 low. The average gas price is $5.40; $7.00 high and $3.92 low.

            Communities in Bristol Bay are suspectable to high energy costs, with little control over the market volatility of oil prices. High energy costs attribute to higher costs of conducting business. This region has an abundance of potential renewable energy options that could offset the high cost of energy.

PCE Disbursements YTD and Residential Energy Cost

Economy

            The Region is considered a “mixed economy,” meaning there are both subsistence and cash components. Households use cash to purchase goods and services such as fuel, electricity, family goods (clothing and shelter), subsistence activities that includes guns, ammunition, fishing nets, traps, skiffs, all-terrain vehicles, and snow machines.

Unemployment

          Commercial fishing and subsistence are important economic activities in the Bristol Bay Region during the summer and are not often reflected in the employment data. During the winter off season, unemployment levels increase due to few employment opportunities. Commercial fishers do not pay into the unemployment system and are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Other seasonal workers draw unemployment and exhaust their benefits before they find other work or the new season starts again. The semi-retired and those that have given up on looking for work do not show up in the unemployment system.

          These factors contribute to high unemployment rate of 8.33% in Bristol Bay – 7.7% in the Lake and Peninsula Borough, 10.7% in the Bristol Bay Borough and 6.6% in the Dillingham Census Area as of December 2021.

Per Capita Income and Poverty Rates

            Per capita income in the Region averages to $25,049 according to the State of Alaska, Department of Labor and Workforce Development. 39.2% of the total population are employed and 26.52% live below the poverty levels. See the table below.

Census Area  Per Capita Income  Poverty Levels  
Bristol Bay Borough  $38,785  13.23%  
Dillingham Census Area  $13,075  18.73%  
Lake and Peninsula  $23,286  47.61%  
Region Average  $25,049  26.52%  

Apart from commercial fishing, the region’s economy is influenced by the local government. Approximately 17.5% of the employment base is in the local government. Other industry sectors include Educational and Health Services 9.1%, and Trade, Transportation and Utilities 7.2%.

Average Earnings and Percentage of Employment by Community

Commercial Fishing Permits

The Limited Entry Permit system was established by constitutional amendment in a statewide primary election on August 22, 1972. When the Bristol Bay Limited Entry Program began, commercial fishers applied for a permit on a point system to qualify for a no cost permit. Limited Entry Permits are transferable and have gained considerable market value, creating a financial barrier to accessing the fishery.  Once permits are sold to pay off debts, it is nearly impossible for local people to afford reentering the fishery.

Commercial fishing is the historical mainstay of the economy, but a number of factors affect its value to the local economy, as a result, the Limited Entry Permit system have decreased the number of locally owned permits, which increases the number of people unable to participate. According to the State of Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (CFEC), ownership by communities have been decreasing since the Limited Entry Permit System has been implemented. It must be noted that, Chignik, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, and Perryville have purse seine salmon permits.

Fishing Industry

As previously stated, the commercial fishing industry plays a vital role as the economic driver in the region, with it not only allowing for seasonal job opportunities but with the influx of seasonal works to support small businesses in the communities such as restaurants and local stores. One of the issues that continually receives lengthy discussion is the need for local ownership of commercial salmon permits.

There is a great need to retain and return limited entry permits to the region. Many young adults that want to enter the fishery business do not qualify for loans or have a means to build assets due to lack of jobs.

These fisheries have seen a downturn and do not have the participation and enthusiasm they once had. This has a devastating impact on the region’s overall economy, the economy of area villages, and numerous small businesses in the region.

Infrastructure

Transportation

            The region is remote with no road access to the State’s highway system. Except for roads between Dillingham and Aleknagik, King Salmon and Naknek, and Iliamna and Newhalen, there are no inter-connecting regional roads that connect the communities. Residents of Bristol Bay travel within their region by boat, personal vehicles, snow machines, 4-wheelers/ATVs, and bush airplanes.

Most communities have gravel and earth surface community streets. Surface access between most communities is by boat along the rivers in the summer and by snow machine along trails in the winter.

Due to its vast, remote and road less geographical location, the Bristol Bay region is faced with communication and transportation limitations, which does not adequately support regional business and community needs. Improving transportation to be more efficient and affordable in the region is a critical need to promoting economic development. Which would result in improved access, lowers the cost of living, increase export opportunities, and stimulate economic activity.

Air Travel

          When travel is required between smaller communities and the airport hub cities of Dillingham, King Salmon, and Iliamna, as well as locations outside of the Region, many residents use the services of the small air carriers.  There is limited commercial jet service between Anchorage and the regional hubs year-round. Two larger airfreight carriers provide year-round service to the hub communities, Northern Air Cargo and Everts Air Cargo. Several small air carriers provide regular, air charter, and cargo flights from the hubs to the smaller communities. Air freight to the non-hub communities is accomplished by smaller air carriers who often combine passenger and cargo flights. A seaplane base is located three miles west of Dillingham owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. A heliport is located at Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, the Regional Hospital in Dillingham. Emergency medevac services to Anchorage are provided throughout the Region and are coordinated through Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation.

            The costs of traveling into, and out of the Bristol Bay region are high, and this certainly affects the lives of residents. Roundtrip air transportation between Dillingham and Anchorage alone costs around $643.00 round trip and a round trip ticket from Perryville to Anchorage is close to $1,500 through Lake Clark Air. Additionally, getting goods to the region is costly. Northern Air Cargo prices from Anchorage, for example, range from $0.90 per pound to King Salmon or Dillingham, plus an additional $50 set fee and current fuel surcharge.

Mail Service

            USPS mail is flown into the hub communities of Dillingham, Iliamna, and King Salmon six days a week and transferred to the outlying communities by small plane. Local air taxis contract for the Mail service and deliver as weather permits. Some small communities are scheduled to receive mail three times a week, but carriers do not transport the mail if the weather is bad or they do not have enough mail to warrant a trip. For some communities this can turn in to a week or two without mail service.

The region has daily (weather permitting), year-round air transportation provided by commercial and cargo airlines through Dillingham, King Salmon and Iliamna which serve as the region’s transportation hubs. Several small airlines provide local charter and cargo flights. Most freight is hauled via by-pass mail from Anchorage. Transporting goods and services into the Bristol Bay region is mostly through air. Produce, dairy, meats, and any other perishable items cannot be shipped any other way. Therefore, these goods are usually expensive.

Barge Service

Barge Services are available to most communities when the rivers are clear of ice, with the exception the Chignik Bay region. The Chignik communities can utilize the Alaska Marine Highway system twice a month from May to September, but it is under threat due to low State funding. Chignik Bay can also ship goods from Washington State monthly, year-round. A significant percentage of the dry goods freight comes in by barge from Seattle. Barge is the only way to haul large construction equipment, personal vehicles, larger vehicles such as dump trucks and buses, and bulk fuel during the summer and fall.

The barges are also used to haul construction materials such as gravel and riprap to communities that have substandard construction materials available onsite. There have been times when the river levels have been low and critical supplies such as bulk fuel could not be delivered. In circumstances such as this, fuel must be flown into the community in 55 gal containers at great cost.

Housing

Many of the homes in the Bristol Bay region are being modernized or replaced by Bristol Bay Housing Authority (BBHA). One of sixteen regional housing authorities in Alaska, the Bristol Bay Housing Authority’s mission is to eliminate substandard housing conditions through the development of local capacities that will provide safe, decent and affordable housing opportunities for the Alaska Native population of Bristol Bay. Since its founding in 1974, BBHA has built more than 500 such units, single family homes and apartments, with funds provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Native American Programs, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation., and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Division.

Many homes in the region are aging and need repairs and upgrades. In most communities there are housing shortages and the need to provide technical assistance in home ownership, loans, grants, and financial and credit management. Water and sewer upgrades are needed in most communities, which the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation has their Environmental Health Program that assists residents with upgrades though at times there can be a three year waiting period for services.

Technology

Basic technological infrastructure development is a major need in the Region. In the Bristol Bay region, businesses and organizations are dependent on modern communication: i.e., telephones, faxes, high speed internet and cell phone usage as part of everyday life. However, cell phone reception is limited throughout the region. Another barrier is bandwidth issues for internet connectivity. Distance education offered through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus has a long and distinguished history in the Bristol Bay region. Technology, the use of internet and telecommunications is particularly crucial tool however, internet access is often unreliable if not severely limited by the outdated infrastructure.

Population

Population by Census Area

For census purposes, there are three separate census areas in the Region. The Dillingham Census Area includes eleven communities located in the Nushagak River and Togiak areas. The Bristol Bay Borough Census Area includes the communities of King Salmon, Naknek, and South Naknek, and the Lake and Peninsula Borough Census Area includes seventeen communities located on the Alaska Peninsula and Lake Iliamna areas as demonstrated in the table below.

 Population by Census Area and Community, from State of Alaska

According to the 2010 Census there are 7,475 people living in the Region, the total population for the Bristol Bay area is 7,177 in 2021, down 4.4% from the 2010 total population of 7,475.  The total population shows an increase in population from 2010-2014. Populations throughout the region were relatively static during the years of 2010-2014. From 2014-2016, population in the Region decreased by 215 individuals. Population loss in small villages represents a serious threat to community sustainability. If a community has fewer than ten school age children the public school must close; this nearly always results in a decline among the remaining year-round residents. There are two main components of population change: Natural change and migration. Natural change is based on birth and deaths; and migration reflects movement to and from the region.

Out Migration

Estimates from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development indicate that there is a net migration out of the region. Between 2020 – 2021 a total net out migration of 829 individuals moving out of the region to another economic region compared to 646 individuals moving into the region as indicated in table below. However, population changes due to natural increases (births minus deaths) are resulting in a steady population over time.

Sports Fishing and Hunting

Sports Fishing

The watersheds that drain into the region support a world-famous sport fishery.

Over 30,000 visitors per year come through Naknek and King Salmon, headed for the great fishing as well as bear viewing at nearby Brooks River. Alaskan residents hold about two-thirds of the sport fishing permits in the area.  Sport fishing brought in estimated $77 million in 2019, but most of that money is earned by non-resident owned businesses and taken from the region when the season is over.

Bristol Bay Sport Fishery:

“The Bristol Bay Sport Fish Management Area is comprised of the Bristol Bay Sport Fishing Regulatory Area. Included in the area are all waters and drainage’s flowing into Bristol Bay north of Cape Menshikof and east of Cape Newenham. The size of the state of Wisconsin, the Bristol Bay Management Area contains some of the most productive salmon, rainbow trout, Arctic grayling, Arctic char, and Dolly Varden waters in the world.

The sport fisheries of this large region are more easily discussed by dividing the management area into three geographic sections: Eastern, Central, and Western. The three sections are based on general habitat types and are arbitrary. However, for some species such as rainbow trout, the sections represent distinct differences in the character of the fisheries or biology of local stocks.

The eastern section includes all drainages from the Kvichak River to the area’s southern boundary at Cape Menshikof. Major federal jurisdictions in the eastern section include the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve, and the Becharof National Wildlife Refuge. The central section is composed of the drainages entering Nushagak Bay and is dominated by the Nushagak and Wood River systems. The Wood-Tikchik State Park falls within the central section boundaries. The western section reaches from Cape Newenham east to Cape Constantine on the Nushagak Peninsula and contains a huge portion of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Major communities located within the region include Naknek, King Salmon, Dillingham, Togiak, and Iliamna. The management area is not linked to the state’s highway system although local roads do provide sport fishers with limited access near the major communities. Float equipped aircraft are commonly used to access the area’s many remote fisheries. The Bristol Bay Sport Fish Management Area includes portions of three areas for the purposes of effort and harvest reporting in the statewide mail survey. These are: the Nushagak area (Area T), the Kvichak area (Area S), and that portion of the Naknek River Drainage-Alaska Peninsula Area (Area R) excluding the saltwater fisheries and freshwater fisheries of the lower Alaska Peninsula, Cold Bay, and the Aleutian Islands.” (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Kodiak and Alaska Peninsula Sport Fishery:

“The Kodiak Management Area for the Division of Sportfish includes all waters of the Kodiak Island Archipelago, the Alaska Peninsula south of a line from Cape Douglas to Cape Menshikof, and the Aleutian Islands. This management area is subdivided into two regulatory regions: the Kodiak Regulatory Area and the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands Regulatory Area. Most sport fisheries are remote and, in some cases, can be difficult to access with the exception of the road accessible streams located in Kodiak, Cold Bay, and Dutch Harbor. A coastal climate with high precipitation and cool temperatures characterizes much of this part of Alaska.

The Kodiak Archipelago is a group of islands, south of the main land mass of the state of Alaska about 252 miles south of Anchorage in the Gulf of Alaska. The largest island in the archipelago is Kodiak Island, which is the second largest island in the United States. In addition to the community of Kodiak there are six remote villages.

The Alaska Peninsula extends about 497 miles to the southwest from the mainland of Alaska and ends in the Aleutian Islands. The peninsula separates the Gulf of Alaska from the Bering Sea. The Aleutian Islands are a chain of both large and small volcanic islands belonging to both the United States and Russia. They extend about 1,200 miles westward from the Alaska Peninsula in the Northern Pacific Ocean.

Principal public land managers in the Kodiak Management Area include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and Alaska State Parks. Additionally, in some areas large land tracts surrounding popular sport fishing destinations are owned by native corporations.

Kodiak, with a population of approximately 11,000, and Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, approximate population of 4,300, are the two largest communities, although the area also includes villages with year-round inhabitants. Sport fisheries management and research functions are based in the Kodiak area office.” (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Subsistence and Sports Hunting

The Bristol Bay Region offers a variety of hunting opportunities, many of them world class. The options include taking kids grouse or hare hunting along back roads, filling the freezer with caribou and moose, or bear hunting in the spring. However, depending on the month, animals may be scarce even where good habitat exists, but abundant elsewhere. Many big game species make long migrations between their seasonal ranges. Most hunting seasons begin in August and end in September. Timing is important for species, like caribou and waterfowl. Caribou migrate seasonally, and an area that provides good hunting in August may be almost devoid of caribou in September. Most waterfowl move quickly out of Alaska in early fall. (ADF&G Hunting and Subsistence)

Tourism

The Bristol Bay area is known for its world-class fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities. The habitat is pristine, intact and unchanged for thousands of years offering countless breathtaking vistas. The region is bordered by three mountain ranges that feed the many lakes that flow into eight major river systems. The mountainous terrain, low lying tundra, freshwater drainage systems, and coastal landscape lend themselves to activities such as extreme biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, wildlife viewing.

Federal and state parks, refuges, preserves, monuments, and recreation sites are available for recreation. The largest state park in Alaska, the 1.6-million-acre Wood-Tikchik State Park, is a major recreational asset of the region. Other significant sites include:

A small percentage of tourism dollars is spent locally in stores, gift shops, restaurants, and hotels, since small planes escort clients from the hub airports to outlying lodges bypassing the local economy. The region’s potential for a variety of low-impact ecotourism adventures is tremendous. Over the last decade, residents began seeking prerequisite training and licenses to operate tourism businesses, and there are a small number of locally owned lodges and sport fishing guides in operation.  The interest and desire to start tourism businesses is growing, but local people have a need of training, technical assistance, and capital sources to pursue tourism ventures.

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation purchased Katmai-land fishing and bear viewing lodges in the Katmai National Park in 2016 and provides increasing local tourism industry jobs. Now BBNC owns the subsidiary Bristol Adventures which operates four lodges in the region. Even before this purchase, they supported the Fly Fish and Guide Academy to help increase local participation into the guided sportfishing business. BBNC helps to foster employment for local people that love the outdoors.

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