The Bristol Bay Region


The Bristol Bay region is located in southwest Alaska. Its regional boundaries under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) extend about 350 miles north to south, and about 230 miles east to west, and cover approximately 40,000 square miles, the size of the state of Ohio.

Three of Alaska's major ethnic Native groups - Yup'ik Eskimos, Athabascans, and Aleuts live in the region.

The 2010 U. S. Census has tabulated 4,847 residents in the area. The Alaska Native population makes up about 3,470 residents, or 72% of the total population. There are three separate census divisions. The Bristol Bay Borough Census Area includes the communities of King Salmon, Naknek, and South Naknek. The Dillingham Census Area includes nine communities, and the Lake and Peninsula Borough Census Area includes 17 communities.

The region has three major mountain ranges: to the northwest lies the Kilbuck Mountains, to the north of the region lies the Taylor Mountains, and the Aleutian Range which lies mostly on the eastern portion of the region along the Alaska Peninsula. There are eight major river systems that define the placement of settlements: the Wood River, Nushagak River, Kvichak River, Naknek River, Egegik River, Ugashik River, Meshik River, and Chignik River. Most of the region's landmass is moist tundra, with stunted cottonwood, willows, and spruce trees scattered throughout.

The climate is maritime, and usually cool, humid, and windy. Cloud cover is present an average of 75.8% year-round. Average summer temperatures range from 37 to 66 F. Average winter temperatures range from 4 to 34 F. The highest recorded temperature was 88 F., and the lowest -53 F. Annual rainfall averages 19.62 inches; and snowfall an average of 44.7 inches. Winter winds, prevailing from the north, average 9.4 to 10.9 mph; and summer winds, prevailing from the south, average 9.7 to 10.6 mph. Winds occasionally reach speeds of 80 mph, but overall average wind speed is 10.2 mph. Average winter wind chill factors range from -15 to 20 F., but -25 to -75 F. are not uncommon.

Limited economic opportunities make subsistence hunting and fishing a very significant contributor to the regional economy. During the salmon season residents catch and process salmon for their own subsistence use. Freshwater fish, porcupine, and rabbit are taken year-round. Moose, caribou, ptarmigan, ducks, and geese are hunted in season. Also harvested in the summer are salmon berries, blueberries, blackberries, huckleberries, wild raspberries, and low and high bush cranberries.

Demographics of the Area Land Ownership

The largest land owners in the Bristol Bay region are the state and federal governments. Most of the federal lands are managed as national parks, preserves, and wildlife refuges. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service manages four wildlife refuges: Becharof, Alaska Peninsula, Togiak, and the Alaska Maritime. The National Park Service manages Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve, and Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. The Bureau of Land Management manages federal lands outside of these conservation units.

State land is primarily located in the Wood Tikchik Lakes area, the Nushagak and Iliamna drainages, and on the Bristol Bay side of the Alaska Peninsula. All tide and submerged lands offshore to three miles and the beds of all inland navigable water bodies are owned by the state. The state maintains two conservation units, the Walrus Islands Game Sanctuary and the Wood Tikchik State Park.

The largest private landowners in the Bristol Bay region are the Native corporations formed as a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. Each of the villages of the region was entitled to select land in its vicinity. The Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), the regional corporation, was also allowed to select land. BBNC controls the subsurface rights of most land owned by the village corporations, while the village retains surface rights.
The vast majority of the Bristol Bay region's land remains undeveloped, with subsistence being the primary land use.

Natural Resources and Economy

The Bristol Bay region is one of the richest region's in natural resources in the state. It has the world's largest runs of sockeye salmon. All five major species of salmon - the chinook, sockeye, chum, coho, and pink salmon spawn in the region. It also has one of the state's largest herring fisheries, and a small population of halibut. The offshore area is a nursing ground for North Pacific halibut stocks. Other marine species such as yellowfin sole, grey cod, shrimp, and clams are abundant.

The region has many large mammals, including caribou, moose, brown and black bears. During the summer months, migratory birds-ducks, geese, cranes, and swans frequent the region.

There are two types of regional economies - year-round and seasonal. The two transportation hubs,  Dillingham and King Salmon, have fairly stable year-round economies. Commercial fishing and salmon processing, government jobs, transportation employment, and service industries are their economic mainstays.

For the other 28 communities, their economies of commercial fishing and subsistence activities are seasonal and offer little employment alternatives. 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. Along with salmon fishing, some fishermen participate in the Togiak Sac Roe Herring Fisheries.

Relatively new, and in some cases powerful economic players, are the forprofit Native Village Corporations, nonprofit Village Councils/IRA's, and other Native organizations. After the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), 24 Village Corporations or Consortiums were formed to invest and manage the land and fund conveyances within the region. There are, also, 30 nonprofit Village Councils/IRA's that provide for the social and economic well-being of its local membership. This includes providing community services, health, and public works and community economic development projects. This organization, similar to other regional Native nonprofit corporations, provides community, health, educational, and development assistance to its membership.


Telephone communications via satellite is available to the entire region through four telephone cooperatives. VHF and citizen band radios are used in most communities. All communities receive the Alaska Rural Communications Network (ARCS - state subsidized) and two communities have cable television ventures. Two Dillingham radio stations (one AM and one FM repeater station) and a Naknek FM station provide broadcasts throughout the region- Mail is flown to Dillingham, Iliamna, and King Salmon six days a week and transferred to the outlying communities.


Except for roads between Dillingham and Aleknagik, King Salmon and Naknek, and Iliamna and Newhalen, there are no inter-connecting regional roads. The region has daily, year-round air transportation provided by three 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 with some by barge front Seattle. Individuals travel by personal vehicles, snow machines, ATVs, skiffs, and small planes. A large percentage of the freight comes in by barge from Seattle.

Government & Service Organizations

Most Bristol Bay villages have tribal councils, a traditional form of government. In 1993, the Department of Interior formally recognized and listed most of the villages of Bristol Bay as tribes. These tribes have a special relationship with the US government, which assures funding for social and human service programs through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies. During March 1995, BBNA held an annual tribal government conference, at which most of the tribes agreed to apply for a compact with the Department of Interior for special "more flexible" funding for program services. Presently the state does not recognize tribal governments.

Bristol Bay Tourism Potential

The Bristol Bay tourism industry has been consistent, stable, and growing. The Bristol Bay sport fishing industry generates $50-$60 million in total revenues. Reports indicate that the growth in Bristol Bay sport fishing activities is higher than statewide averages of 7% to 11% per year.

Tourism growth in the Bristol Bay area is directly attributable to the vast amount of acreage set aside for recreational purposes. The area has hundreds of miles of rivers usable in the Togiak, the Nushagak, the Mulchatna, the Kvichak, the Naknek, the Branch, and the Egegik Rivers.

According to a recreational study completed by the Lake and Peninsula Borough, the U. S. Park Service has determined that the Katmai National Park had 40,000 to 46,000 visitors from 1989 to 1992. The Lake Clark National Park had increased from 4,000 to more than 21,000 visitors since 1989.

Employment Opportunities

Commercial fishing and subsistence are the primary economic activities in the Bristol Bay region. During the off fishing season, unemployment levels increase to more than 55% in many villages. Smaller communities have few other employment alternatives. Full time employment is generally limited to the schools and community/government service.

A number of Bristol Bay residents are investing in the sport fishing and tourism industry. Interest in development of tourism is growing as evidenced by the number of participants attending workshops periodically held throughout the region.

Salaries earned in the Bristol Bay region are earned in the following areas:

  1. Government 35%
  2. Seafood processing 31%
  3. Services 17%
  4. Transportation, communications, utilities 9%
  5. Retail trade 3%
  6. Other 5%

Student Description

The Bristol Bay Campus provides a broad range of courses designed to attract a diverse student population that includes both degree-seeking, vocational/technical and general-education students. This population includes students who have had no college training, those returning to college work after a substantial hiatus, those holding baccalaureates but seeking refresher work, and those actively seeking a graduate degree.

Most Bristol Bay Campus students go to school part-time because they have jobs, are parents, or because they have community responsibilities. A significant percentage of our students are between the ages of 31 and 40, but there are many younger and many older.

The Bristol Bay Campus offers many courses that are available  via internet or audioconference, to all of its 32 regional villages (and around the world). It offers hands-on vocational/technical and academic courses on campus and throughout the region as well. 

The Bristol Bay Campus has developed working partnerships with the following organizations:

  • City of Dillingham
  • Bristol Bay Borough
  • Lake & Peninsula Borough
  • Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation
  • Bristol Bay Housing Authority
  • Bristol Bay Native Association
  • Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation
  • Lake and Peninsula School District
  • Southwest Region School District
  • Dillingham City School District
  • Bristol Bay Borough School District
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