Nushagak Bay, from Protection Point on the Nushagak Peninsula to Etolin Point on the east side of the bay, is one of two prominent embaymets in north Bristol Bay. It is fed by four major drainages: Wood, Nushagak, Snake and Igushik rivers. About 200 km of unvegetated intertidal flats occur within the roughly 30-km wide and 50-km long estuary. The unvegetated flats are especially prominent along the west side from the Nichols Spit north to Coffee Point and along the east side from Clarks Point to Etolin Point. Within the upper bay large shoals of mud occur off the mouths of Igushik and Snake Rivers. Only a relatively small portion of the bay (between protection Point and Nichols Spit and the mouth of the Igushik River) is within the Togiak National wildlife refuge. All other adjacent lands are administered by Native corporations.
Nushagak Bay is an important spring and autumn staging and molting area for eiders, gees and scoters. Black Scoters and King Eiders sometimes stay in this area during most of the winter. Staging and wintering waterfowl is also abundant in the marine waters at the entrance to both Nushagak and neighbouring Kvichak Bays.
Observations of shorebirds using Nushagak Bay are limited. During aerial surveys of waterfowl in autumn on several occasions more than 10,000 small sandpipers were recorded in the area (Gill & Conant 1979, Gill & King 1980). In September 1997 the area was flown especially to enumerate shorebirds (Gill & Sarvis unpubl.) On this day 22,236 total shorebirds were recorded including 21, 872 Dunlin and 121 Greater Yellowlegs.
Nushagak Bay is also recognized as being of Regional Importance by the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN).
Surveys for sea ducks/geese conducted 1980-2001.
Total shorebirds: Aut P; Sept 1997; 22,236.
Western Sandpiper: Spr/sum/aut
Pac. Gol. Plover: Spr/aut
Rock Sandp: Spr/aut/win
Least Sandp: Sum
Blk-bel Plov: Sum/aut
Short-b Dow: sum
Grtr Yellowlegs: sum/aut
L-B Dow: aut
Oil drilling and extraction could take place in the Bering Sea.
Fishing boats and gear disturb birds at times.
Private land adjacent the bay may be developed for tourism or village sites in the future; this could change currents that maintain the mud flats or could create pollution.
Vessel traffic in the bay could result in oil or fuel spills. Traffic includes fishing vessels, supply barges, and freighters.
Global warming may already be starting to change food resources of seabirds, due to effects on river and marine currents, which will change seabird prey populations and their availability.
(Note: Although birds coexists with intensive commercial fishing in Nushagak Bay, fishing gear seldom or never catches birds there. Nets are a threat primarily to diving seabirds, and they are rare in Nushagak Bay, probably because the water is too silty for birds to pursue prey underwater. Small beluga whales are occasionally caught in the nets.)
Shingle spits/sandspits (0.2 km2), Intertidal mud/sandflats and beach (186 km2), Estuary, Inshore bay, Saltmarshes (211 km2), Humid & mesic grass/forbs, Moss-sedge-cottongrass lowland, Wooded tundra, Coastal lowland rivers and river beds, and Coastal dwarf shrub mat.
The town of Dillingham (permanent population about 4,000) and the village of Clark's Point are on shores of the bay. Both have fish processing plants. Seasonal fishing camps of 100-200 people (Coffee Point, Nushagak) are occupied during summer.
Freight vessels supply towns and villages on the bay and on rivers that flow into it; vessels also carry fish from the fish processors to markets elsewhere.
Intensive commercial fishing for salmon in June and July: both drift-gillnetting in the lower bay, and set-gillnetting on intertidal flats throughout the bay.