Cape Greig walrus are back, ADF&G plans changed fishery boundary again

A few of the couple thousand walrus hauled out at Cape Grieg north of Ugashik Bay in June 2016. ADF&G and USFWS says the walrus are back this year, but have not said yet how many. (KDLG photo)

Last year thousands of Pacific walrus unexpectedly showed up at Cape Greig north of Ugashik Bay, delighting sightseers but complicating fishing and shipping in the busy fishing district. When they left in the fall, biologists were not sure if they would be back the following summer or not.

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“I’ve gotten word from three different sources that there are some animals there now,” Paul Salomone with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said. He manages the Egegik and Ugashik commercial fishing districts.

Salomone said the Department will pull the north line of the Ugashik District back away from the haul-out site again, the same as last year. The exact coordinates will be published with the first announcement from ADF&G around June 1.

Pulling the line south and requiring a one mile buffer seemed to allow the walrus and the fishing fleet to peacefully co-exist in 2016, which state and federal managers were not sure would be the case.

“I haven’t heard anything official from anybody that there was a problem,” Salomone said of last season. “There might’ve been some issues of people getting too close to them or a few other things, I have rumors of that, but nothing official.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the harassing, hunting, capturing or killing of all marine mammals in U.S. waters, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At their haulout sites, walrus are sensitive to “noises, sites, and smells” that can trigger a deadly stampede. There are rules for those flying into a haulout site, or hiking near the animals, to prevent that. The USFWS requires vessels to keep a half mile offshore when transiting near a haulout beach, and ADF&G increased that to one nautical mile for the commercial fishing industry.

The walrus at Cape Greig attracted some “flightseers” and beachcombers in 2016, as it quickly became one of the most accessible haulout sites in Bristol Bay. It may become the sixth main regularly used summer spot, alongside Round and Hagemeister Islands and Capes Peirce, Newenham, and Seniavin.