Aquatic and Fishery Sciences' Ray Hilborn
Aquatic and Fishery Sciences’ Ray Hilborn

Ray Hilborn watched with satisfaction last summer as the near-record sockeye salmon run he and his UW colleagues had forecasted finally flooded from Bristol Bay up through the lakes and creeks of southwest Alaska. Their prediction? Forty-nine million sockeye—up more than 50 percent from the average of 32 million. When the season started slowly Hilborn got antsy, recalling the 1995 run, in which “there was nothing, nothing, nothing and people started to despair,” says the aquatic and fishery sciences professor. “Then, boom! They showed up [58 million of them]—just a little bit late.”

In his 20-plus years of fieldwork in Bristol Bay, Hilborn has tuned into every number and nuance. An expert in natural resource management and salmon conservation, Hilborn advocates marine stewardship as a way to preserve fish populations and protect fisheries. He eschews notions that most of the world’s fisheries are overfished and that all fish stocks will collapse by 2048. An adviser to governments and global organizations, he urges pairing commercial fishing with government management tools such as halting fishing at certain times.

Hilborn is published, quoted and cited in a range of periodicals from the vaunted scientific journals Nature and Science to the Bristol Bay Times and He has studied tuna in the South Pacific, explored the recovery of Atlantic cod and analyzed sardines in California.

But back at Bristol Bay, Hilborn’s focus is on this year’s sockeye.

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