June 18, 2008

Copper River Fishermen Are Still Waiting for the Big Run

State biologists eyeing the low harvest to date in the famed Copper River salmon fishery said June 6 that the catch level may be an indicator of a possible later than usual run.

Several hundred drift gillnet fishermen, meanwhile, were still waiting for the big run in what many fishermen are saying is a colder than usual late spring.

As of the end of the sixth fishing opener June 5, the harvest was estimated at a total of 7,680 kings and 161,830 sockeyes, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. For the first six periods of the 2007 season, a very good year for Copper River, the harvest was about 22,195 kings and 679,560 reds.

The Copper River District was opened to commercial fishing for two 12-hour fishing periods the week of June 1-7. These were the fifth and sixth periods of the 2008 season.

Biologists said Copper River returns appear to be tracking several days later than expected, with a total of 204,614 salmon counted by June 5. Sonar numbers have reflected this with actual passage numbers matching anticipated numbers typically associated with a normal run curve for the previous two to four days, they said.

There are an estimated 250 to 400 drift gillnet permits participating in the fishery, and no processing capacity problems reported to date, the department said.

Since 1969 there have been five seasons where cumulative sockeye salmon harvests have been lower and three seasons where total chinook salmon harvests have been lower. This compares with a 5-year cumulative harvest average of 569,588 sockeye and 28,334 Chinook salmon for this date, biologists said.

Copper River king salmon fillet prices were still holding their own at prestigious shops like Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, where fillets were selling for $34.95 a pound, and Copper River sockeye fillets for $21.95 a pound.