Good bad news?

fish wheel

An idle Copper River fishwheel awaits the first salmon of the season/National Park Service photo

The Copper River commercial salmon fishery ended Tuesday almost 2,000 Chinook over the 5,000-salmon threshold the Alaska Department of Fish and Game set as the acceptable harvest for 2017,  and the fishing season has only begun.

Steve Moffitt was at the time reported to be hiking somewhere along the Appalachian Trail on the East Coast of North America some 4,500 miles southeast of the tiny port, community of Cordova on the West Coast not far from the mouth of the Copper.

Who the hell is Steve Moffitt?

He’s the commercial fisheries biologist who penned a bombshell forecast calling for the return of but 29,000 king salmon, as Alaskans most often call Chinook, to the Copper River this year. He then promptly retired, leaving behind what has now become Alaska’s most watched fishery for a number of reasons:

  1. Copper River king and sockeye salmon are the 49th state’s most valuable fish. The threat of scarcity has made them only more valuable. Undercurrent News, an industry trade publication, labeled 2017 prices “ridiculous.” It reported headed and gutted kings going for $20 to $25 per pound in Seattle.
  2. The Copper supports the first big run of kings to hit fresh water in Alaska and thus offers an early indication of what sort of returns might be expected elsewhere in a state where the biggest of the five species of Pacific salmon has been struggling for years for unknown reasons.
  3. The politics of Alaska salmon allocation is always contentious and has only become more so since the state ordered in-river sport and personal-use fisheries for kings closed on the basis of Moffitt’s forecast, restricted subsistence fishermen to only two kings for the season, and said it planned to split the allowable harvest between the commercial and subsistence fisheries with the former getting 3,500 of a 5,000-fish harvest limit, later 4,000, only to have any idea of a limit vanish beneath the volume of the actual catch.
  4. And if all of that weren’t enough, the issue is swimming toward federal waters at a time when President Donald Trump’s new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, is on his first Alaska tour.  A federal law unique to the 49th state gives rural Alaskans a subsistence priority on the harvest of fish and wildlife. Federal officials only days ago announced they were taking over management of king salmon on the lower and middle Kuskowim River in Western Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “has to take over the fishery in times of low abundance to ensure that local people get subsistence priority,” KYUK in Bethel reported. 

Moffitt set the Copper king run at low abundance just before he left Cordova. Best to get out of Dodge when what has been going so good for so long starts to look like it might go bad, though it’s possible things aren’t going as bad as they might look.

More on that later.

Years of experience

Moffitt spent most of his professional career as a fisheries research biologist in the small community at the south entrance to Prince William Sound watching catches of Alaska’s most iconic salmon brand grow and grow and grow.

Copper River harvests that never topped 1 million in the decades prior to 1981 reached close to 2.1 million by 2014.

“The sockeye salmon harvest of 2.07 million fish was more than 1.5 times the previous 10-year harvest average of 1.32 million sockeye salmon,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that year reported. “The overall commercial sockeye salmon harvest from the Copper River District was the third largest harvest in the history of the fishery.”

There were hints of a problem by then.

“The total commercial Chinook salmon harvest in 2014 was 9,630, below the 10-year (2004-2013) average harvest of 21,200,” the state noted, but the next year, 2015, marked an apparent turn around. The commercial catch of Chinook climbed back up to 22,500 – despite a dismal preseason forecast – and the sockeye catch came in at 1.75 million, still well above the 10-year average. 

And then came the disaster of 2016 with its harvest of 1.62 million sockeye, which was good; a catch of 13,100 Chinook, which was well below the 10-year average; and a failure to meet spawning goals in a management disaster of epic proportions.

Not only did the state fail to meet the minimum, the post-season estimate of Chinook on the spawning beds was only about half of the desired 22,000 – potentially a big blow to future returns. 

In the wake of this disaster, Moffitt, who’d been monitoring Copper River/Prince William Sound salmon fisheries for decades, read the tea leafs for 2017 (fisheries management is far from an exact science) and forecast a return of 1.8 million sockeye – low, but still big enough to provide for a harvest of more than 1 million fish after spawning needs were met – and those 29,000 Chinook.

As soon as the forecast came out, both fishermen and fishery managers knew they had a problem. Copper River Chinook are largely by-catch in the sockeye fishery. It is impossible to catch the latter without catching some of the former.

Still, Fish and Game biologists figured they could hold the harvest down with time and area restrictions on the more than 500 drift gillnetters permitted to fish the ocean off the mouth of the Copper.

As it turns out, they couldn’t. From the first opening of the fishery on May 18 through Monday, more kings than expected were caught.

A good thing?

The big catches aren’t necessarily bad. They could be a harbinger of a much larger than forecast return of kings. Moffitt’s forecasts have missed before. His 2015 forecast of 35,500 was only about three-fifths of the eventual return of 56,174. On the other hand, the 2014 return was only 57 percent of the forecast return, and the 2016 return was only 46 percent of the forecast.

None of which is making the fisheries management job easier for the people who followed in Moffitt’s footsteps.

The situation is simpler for commercial fishermen. They are convinced the large, early catches of Chinook are a clear sign the run this year is much larger than Moffitt predicted.

In the short-term, of course, they only stand to gain from that conclusion.  The stronger the run, the more fishing time they are given. The more fishing time they are given, the more fish they catch. The more fish they catch, the  more money they make.

Bigger catches might mean smaller runs in the future because of low numbers of spawners, but if you’ve got boat payments to make to stay in business, this year matters a lot more than next year.

So far, state fisheries biologists have reluctantly gone along with the argument that the  big catches equal more than expected numbers of fish.

Harvest information “continues to provide a preliminary indication of above anticipated king salmon abundance,” managers said in a Saturday press release announcing the Monday, commercial fishery opening. But fishery managers have closed areas where the most kings are traditionally caught, and they’ve shortened fishing periods to try to protect those fish.

The closures, some fisherman argue, have made the fishery more dangerous and in one case potentially deadly. Meanwhile, the growing king catch has heightened tensions between commercial fishermen and in-river salmon harvesters.

Fish fight

The 2,000-king catch on Monday underlined the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the fishery.

State managers argue they need to keep upriver fisheries tightly restricted or totally closed to protect every fish because of the weak run while justifying continued and sizeable harvests in the commercial catch off the mouth of the river by citing that “preliminary indication of above anticipated king salmon abundance.”

The seeming hypocrisy doesn’t look good to in-river users.

As subsistence fisherman Mike Tinker from Fairbanks noted in a weekend letter to Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten, the increased catch in the commercial fishery “now far exceeds the number that would have been ‘saved'” by the in-river restrictions.

Tinker asked Cotten to at least relax a standard that will require subsistence fishwheels be “closely attended” whenever running so that kings can be safely released unharmed. Subsistence fishermen consider the regulation onerous given they might catch only a few kings per day, if that.

“In my family, the elders fish so the younger family can stay on the job.  The restrictions from the EO (emergency order restriction) will make it impossible to catch our fish,” Tinker wrote. ” Recall, the average subsistence permit catches 60 fish a year.  Sockeye may enter the river in pulses but by the time they maneuver through the steep fast water canyons and get up into the Copper Basin where the fishwheels are located they are stretched out into a thin line.  We catch them a few a day and mostly at night.  This is not the Yukon where even at Eagle (near the Canadian border) a fishwheel can catch 3,000 chum in a week.”

There have been ongoing talks about relaxing in-river regulations, according to people involved in the discussions at Fish and Game. But there are dangers there as well.

If Moffitt’s forecast is right, the king run has already been overfished in the commercial fishery, and there is no way to avoid overfishing it more in order to maintain a commercial catch of plentiful sockeye salmon.

If this is the actual case – or if Moffitt’s forecast is actually low as it has been in three out of the last four years – allowing in-river fisheries to kill even more kings would make a bad situation worse.

And the biggest problem of all is that fisheries managers really don’t know what they have for a return. A sonar counter that can’t tell a sockeye from a Chinook took a big tick up on Friday when more than 38,000 fish hit the river. 

Some took that as a sign a lot of fish were going to escape into the Copper because of the so far limited fishing – only 43 hours in four openings since May 18. The expectation was that numbers would just keep going up, but instead they started falling and kept falling.

The Monday count was back down to 14,556, which was within about a thousand fish of the perfect-world scenario of 13,447 for the day. Likewise, some king salmon counting fish wheels upstream from the sonar, which had started ticking upward the day after the elevated sonar counts, began tracking downward.

Neither the sonar nor the fish wheels provide a solid account of how many kings are entering the river, but they do provide hints at run strength. The hints, unfortunately, made it harder, not easier, to sort this puzzle.

Somewhere on the Appalachian Trail, Moffitt has to be happy he isn’t in Cordova.









42 replies »

    • For some reason I don’t expect you to be shouting for erring on the side of conservation, now allen! Heheh!
      A lot of gnashing of nuckles and teeth to try to fill the river with more fish for upriver guys, without success IMO but nothing wrong with asking, I guess.
      Me thinks the manager has a pretty good handle on his methods, so far.

      • Or my Emergency Petition had a little to do with it.The Commissioner had to make some choices. 1.Denie my E.P. and state there is no emergency Yet he still has 2 active E.O’s. when has harvested just south of 10,000 kings. 2. status quo. 3. what was he going to open up? SP or PU.

        Now all us P.U.guys will have to fight for king salmon meal.

        Yet as Craig had stated “how lucky does the Department feel”? I guess their shaking the dice. hope they don’t turn up snake eyes.

        Conservation of a fish resources and sustain yield is our management mandates. not not betting on the craps table. with slim margins.
        Hope it all works out for the good.

      • See James Mykland’s post below, al.
        “…that the department will review all available run strength data (including info from the commercial harvest tomorrow), to evaluate the chinook run, on Friday June 2nd.”
        It appears the Department has spoken after evaluating “run strength” and I suspect that luck has nothing to do with it. Frankly, without the fleet fishing these openers there would be almost no information available to manager to be able to determine what they’ve done today.

      • How did all that evaluating work out for the Department last year? I hear a dice cup shaking. lol. Opening the sport fishery, is this to sacrifice another 1,000 kings and get some of the heat off the managers?

      • You will have to ask the manager about that, al!
        IMO this is all about a larger than expected run of kings and it only makes sense to open upriver fisheries, depending on just how strong the run is. I doubt there is any “sacrificing” of fish involved, to take the heat off managers (or any other reason).
        Last year is just that-last year. These guys no doubt have that hindsight to help them out this year. Nobody has ever said that fish forecasting is an exact science!

      • i don’t shout, Bill; but i’ll admit i’m uncomfortable with the decision. i’d prefer an error on the side of conservation. yes, i have prejudice, and i’m happy to admit it.

      • No surprise here, Craig as you’ve been uncomfortable ever since you saw the point estimate for kings.
        Looking, to me, like the Department figures that the point estimate has already been met (with the commercial catch plus the number of kings in the river and inside barrier islands), allowing for some sport fishing upriver.
        I will add here, that without last years screw-up, some of the inside fishing could have taken place, this year, and we would not be in such a place today. Kings are still coming, too it seems, which will probably allow for some p. u. fishing as well.

      • we’ll see. it would be great if they’re right. if they’re not, well, it’ll certainly make for an interesting board meeting.

  1. Just finished fileting and vac-packing a stunning 50 pounder. Head and frame in the stock pot. These fish are very fat and in very good condition this year – perhaps a reflection of the ocean being back to “normal” this year. Probably a main stem spawner with this timing and size. Sport Fish Division did a radio telemetry study as well as some genetic investigations a few years back that describes run timing and distribution of the various Chinook stocks of the Copper River – worthwhile reading.

    I guess I would trust a single fish wheel as much as a single gillnet for assessing run strength. The only potential value of this wheel is in its relationship with the companion recapture wheel further upriver. I say potential because the mark-recapture technique, while useful in a lake system and now in the genetic ecosystem, is often an unreliable indicator of abundance in a constantly changing river such as the Copper. All one has to do is contemplate the large range associated with the annual inriver estimate to understand the uncertainty – oops, no one ever talks about the range. Come to think of it, there was a range associated with Moffitt’s 2017 Chinook forecast too – 3 to 55 thousand – consider that for a moment.

    Thanks for the opportunity to join this discussion.

    • i’d recommend everyone read those tracking studies, George; they’re interesting. so, too, the annual Eyak reports on capture/recapture. i have considered the range on Moffitt’s forecast from the get go. i’d hope everyone has done the same. the midpoint of that range would be 25,000. if we accept the range as accurate but otherwise unquantifiable, we have a 50-50 chance of being above or below the midpoint. are we feeling lucky?
      as to that fish wheel, i’d trust it as much as a gillnet placed AT THE LOCATION of that fish wheel. rivers have choke points. it’s why people can now kick the crap out of Kusko chinook even when runs are weak, because folks out west have learned the choke points and they’re now high-speed, power-boat mobile enough to get to them.
      any harvest device placed in a choke point is going to catch a higher percentage of fish than a randomly placed piece of gear. they managed to overfish the Copper in 1918/1919 using dipnets and fish wheels upriver because they’d figured this out. i wouldn’t dismiss the fishwheel so easily.
      it has potential value as an index even without recapture upriver, but in that case it is just a bit of paint for the brush of the art part of the management equation. the recapture site actually provides some data, and it is better than that for which you give it credit.

    • As a in river user. i don’t have to worry about vacuum packing my one or two kings.we just eat them. no reason to save them.

  2. why do we gamble/shake the dice with this resource? Should we not be erring on the side of conservation? Has any forecasted an over escapement? with so many unknown variables,the Department continues on without more restrictions on the fleet to protect king salmon stocks. as of right now, with still a 100 boats to report they took another 2,000 kings in their 5th.opener. Still with no idea if we will even make escapement,or what the subsistence harvest is. Who is going to be held accountable if the SEG is not met again?

  3. Whoa, before anyone goes to the mat on sonar numbers, remember that Miles Lake sonar counts are only an INDEX – one with highly variable degrees of confidence depending on water velocity, river height and, to some degree, the sheer volume of fish passing the 20 meter sliver of the river that’s actually sonified (sic). When the river is as low as it is so far this year, the sonar scans an uncontrolled, irregular bottom below the established substrate and representative counts are presumably low – fish aren’t forced to the bank as much by water velocity. As the river rises and a greater proportion of passing fish are forced to the river bank, they swim over the control substrate and higher confidence counts are obtained rendering an INDEX more comparable with historic. This is why it pays to look at water level heights and trends when trying to understand this INDEX.

    Regarding the potential to count kings with the sonar one would first have to understand that Chinook swimming behavior in the river is often different than sockeye due to size differences (deeper and further from bank) and secondly, that it might generate yet another INDEX of unknown confidence.

    The current sonar equipment is capable of illuminating seals as they swim by so it should pick up a king and perhaps even some of those pesky commie frogmen.

    King catch per effort in the commercial fishery is undeniably encouraging but confounded by our inability to compare with historic due to this season’s radical reductions in time and area. Fishery management is often as much art as science and managers never have as much data as they would like. At this time, however, our king indicators are strong enough that the State ought to rethink the EO that prematurely and ham-handedly imposed new restrictions on the inriver fisheries. Reading that EO is cringe-worthy.

    I do hope that by the time Steve Moffitt reaches Mt. Katahdin he’ll have divined an explanation for the “one-year-average” – this is, after all the essence of his 2017 Chinook forecast. The department really needs to review this kind of nonsense before it hits the street.

    • “presumably” is a good word here, George. along with the sonar, as you know, we have a couple fish wheels spinning upstream which have a fairly long history now, or i should say, we have one of them spinning because the other doesn’t have flow. indications are that the catch rate at these low flows might actually be better with one wheel than with two wheels working at higher flow, but we really don’t know. and we especially don’t know what low flows do to Chinook entry into the river. does that retard entry? maybe. it could also do the opposite. historically most of the data generally seems to indicate there’s a peak early when the Chinook bound for the upper Copper River move through and a peak later when mainstem spawners for middle CR drainages move through. this year the fish wheel built to a clear peak on May 28 and then fell of through June 1. did the fish come early because of low water? was that the peak that usually comes in early June? nobody has any
      way of knowing. i hope it wasn’t the first peak. i hope your right in suggesting Moffitt’s forecast was nonsense. but me, i’m nervous, and extremely glad i’m not the one tasked with making the management calls on this. fisheries management is, as you observe, often as much art as science. i hope our painters are one day looked back on as master. meanwhile, i guess the upside of all of this is that we will learn more about the reliability of the sonar data at low water. your observations there might be spot on, then again…. and by the time we start to get enough mark-recapture data to actually make an educated guess at the number of Chinook, it’s going to be too late to impose any restrictions on the commercial fishery to put more kings in the river. if, of course, there were any more restrictions anyone could have come up with – short of a full closure – to hold down the king catch. it’s a difficult situation.

      • The Department could have restricted drifters away from the beaches. My guess is that 90% of the kings caught this year were picked up near the beaches.
        Obviously they (F&G) didn’t feel it necessary to further restrict the fleet. And its only a difficult situation for those who would like to see even more kings put into the river. There is plenty of time to remove the restrictions on upriver sport and personal use folks IMO.

  4. Hey, you do know the commies are in the water now, another 12 hour opening.

    Sent from Rod Arno’s iPad.


    • guest the Department found some more harvested kings in the first two openers. 39 more in 1 and 76 more kings harvested in period 2. Grand total to date before tomorrow’s fish tickets is 6,991

    • if the question pertains to the commercial fishery and was directed at me, Rod, the answer is “yes.” now, if it’s frogmen from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) invading Resurrection Bay, that would be another matter.

  5. “Steve Moffitt was at the time reported to be hiking somewhere along the Appalachian Trail ”

    somewhere on a tuffit
    retired biologist Moffitt
    ponders his 401K…

    the blue chips are in
    the tenders contend
    the kings we surely did slay!

  6. Craig, that early in the season the counter would be more kings than 5% IMO.
    My observation, along with others, is that a lot more kings would have been caught on the inside of the bars than caught outside them. Those that would have been caught are as good as in the river yet many have not yet reached the sonar counter. Occasionally a large upriver sockeye run comes early and hits the counter for your crazy high numbers but those usually come along with a large red catch, too. There doesn’t seem to be a large over escapement of reds, as yet IMO.
    Certainly low water in the river could mean some kings are holding inside and waiting to enter but essentially they have also escaped the commercial fleet (due to inside closure), yet as has been pointed out elsewhere still have to avoid some upriver fishing to be escaped spawners.

    • Bill – i’d tend to agree, but we don’t know. it would be my guess more kings, too. i don’t, however, think this should be a guessing game. the data supports you on the inside/outside observation. who knows what’s in the river. i really did expect to see a Tuesday number trending upward given how little time the commercial fleet had fished, and instead it went down from Monday. i’m just thankful i’m not the one charged with making the calls on this fishery.

      • Well there is certainly reason for getting more information to this manager to be able to make these tough calls.
        With the State cutting budgets, fishery management will probably take some hits. Just imagine the upcoming seine fisheries should the State have to lay off their staff July 1.

    • Bill. When the reds and kings get inside and do not go up river. Do you believe they stay inside? what do they do when the tide goes out? or does it depend on how low the tide will get,that would push the fish back out the inside?

      • Occasionally, with low water in river early in season, the kings hold in the inside gutters waiting for water. With a huge minus tide they could move back outside but more likely they would move into the lower river on the associated high tides that come with those big minuses (I’ve never observed them moving back outside). When fishing those gutters, the fish move down (to deeper holes) on the ebb when getting close to low water and this is when many of them are caught inside as the nets will hold in the slowed down ebb. I’ve not been made aware of kings (or reds) that ebbed out of the barrier islands unless they were just coming in at the end of a flood tide.
        Essentially, those salmon that have gotten inside remain there until caught or get the right tide to go on up the river. Hold in tides tend to keep them waiting for water. They occasionally run up against the tide but am unsure of what is going on there.
        These are just my opinions of 25 years fishing the Flats and welcome any corrections (and I suspect its more complex than my above thoughts).

  7. now you write that Mike Tinker,”MIGHT” only be able to catch a few fish a day? Explain then how it is that the NVE Baird camp fishwheel has already caught and tagged over 400 Kings as of last week. Look for yourself… provides daily data. You know, Data, that stuff that should be
    used to make educated,scientific, management decisions.

    • if you read the Tinker quote, it’s pretty clear he’s way, way up river. fish get a lot harder to catch when they are dispersed. i think most fishermen understand that, Kurt. the Baird fish wheel does well because it’s at a choke point where fish concentrate.

  8. How can copper river kings be considered “by-catch”? when it currently represents 1/4 or 25% of commercial fishes income? seams to me that commercial fish is targeting them,because it is significant to their bottom line. So should they use the term “by-catch”, or is more correct to say targeted?

    • They (kings) are not by-catch, however king mesh gear has been outlawed in order to reduce the targeted king catch. Some fishermen still target kings with red gear by fishing inside or on outside beaches where those kings tangle up in the gear. In the early 80s, the fishery was held with only king gear allowed because of a poor anticipated sockeye run-that could clearly be done again IMO.

    • ah yes, the old bycatch debate. here’s the original NOAA definition: “Bycatch – Fish other than the primary target species that are caught incidental to the harvest of the primary species.” when we’re catching 20 to 30 sockeye per Chinook, you’d have to say sockeye are the primary target species. granted, there’s a question as to whether kings are “incidental” to that catch or targeted by some fishermen, but most fishermen insist when you talk to them that they’re NOT targeting kings. that’s why the term bycatch was used, but people can legitimately debate it at length.

      • Yet Craig, 1 king to 20 to 30 reds. the one king nets (no pun intended) on average $200.00 and 25 reds(average of 20-30 reds) nets $162.50. What would you go after as a target species?

      • i already know the common answers. yet that is why the guys have two guys one their side of the net coming in with dips nets to make sure no kings fall back in the water as the kings untangle themselves,

  9. Craig,
    I received a reply from Mark Somerville, area management biologist, for the upper Copper River. Mark stated, that the department will review all available run strength data (including info from the commercial harvest tomorrow), to evaluate the chinook run, on Friday June 2nd.
    If available data, indicate larger chinook run, than forecast, management can act quickly to allow increased opportunity, for upriver user groups, to partake in chinook abundance surplus. Let us all hope this happens.

  10. Craig,
    I have been a commercial fisher on the Copper River/Prince William Sound, since 1977.
    The ADF&G 2017 preseason forecast was only a forecast. It ranged from a low of 5K-55K chinook total run. The Sports division over-reacted on March 6th, and instituted a retention ban on chinooks for both sports & personal use fisheries on the upper CR. The State authorized subsistence fishwheels, were also restricted to two chinooks, per family for the season. The commercial drift fleet has been the most restricted by time and area, since I have started fishing.
    These restrictions were put in place, due to providing chinook conservation, based on the preason forecast.
    It is very apparent, with the commercial harvest, sonar escapement & the NVE fishwheel capture and tagged project, that chinook abundance is far greater than the top end of the forecast. As a result, 30-40K chinook will most likely reach the spawning grounds this summer.
    I sent an email, on Monday, to the ADF&G commissioner, the director of the Sport’s division & other departmental staff, asking for the retention ban to be rescinded. All user groups, on the upper CR, have the right to share in the chinook abundance. I have not yet received a reply. I will forward you that email, if you send me you contact info.
    The harvest of chinook, by the commercial fleet, would have been much smaller, if the forecast of 29K was correct. The restrictions placed on the commercial fleet, this season, would have assured that. In four restrictive commercial fish openers, we have harvested over 7K chinook, which in my view, shows that this chinook return is close to a 55-60K plus run. If we had been allowed more time and area, our harvest would have been far greater.
    On another note: The good news going forward, is that local department managers, have received the latest sonar equipment, which will be able to differentiate between chinooks and sockeyes, as they swim past the two Miles Lake sonars, starting next spring. We will finally, for the 1st time, know how many chinooks, have passed on their way upriver. In-season data, has always been the number one priority & the most accurate data, will finally be available next year. Knowing what fish are in the river, helps the department, make sound management decisions, based on the sustainability of our salmon runs.

    • James – you can always email me at don’t count on that sonar quite yet. they are working on it. but if the Kenai River is any indication, it’s will take a couple years or more to work all the kinks out. as for the rest, i think every sensible Alaskans hopes you’re right. the harvest of the fleet “should” have been much smaller if the forecast of 29,000 was correct, but there is this little issue of “fleet efficiency” which has bit more than a few fisheries managers in the ass. the harvests this year, despite the shorter periods, look a lot like the harvests last year, and as we all know that didn’t work out so well.

      • “..the harvests this year, despite the shorter periods, look a lot like the harvests last year” The problem with this comment, Craig, is that the fishery is not the same as last year! The inside closure this year essentially means that those fish that have gotten through the bars are already in the river and cannot be a future part of the commercial catch. Many have commented on these issues that more kings would have been caught inside than those caught outside suggesting something more than 7000 kings are already in the river-big question is how many more?
        James Mykland above suggests it is many more and he does have much local experience and knowledge of Copper River king salmon. At any rate, my money is on James’ feeling about this king run and your comparison between this and last year is clearly comparing apples and oranges IMO.

    • thanks Bill. But i was pointing out the term “by-catch” cause it is regularly with the copper river kings. as in this article and many others to include the Department. ” Copper River Chinook are largely by-catch in the sockeye fishery”.

      • I think the term “largely” allows them some lee-way, here Al. Clearly the fishery, in total, is managed for sockeyes as the numbers are so much in their favor but should the red run falter you can bet the Dept. would attempt to manage for kings IMO (just as they did in the early 80s. And that year, there were some reds caught in the king gear even with no low waters allowed-they wanted as many reds in the river as they could get.

      • What we have here is a failure to communicate. Commercial fisheries on the Copper River will remain open, no matter if kings or sockeyes “falter”, and there is no scenario where both runs would “falter” at the same time. So it will never totally close, just operate under a “conservative” management.

        All fisheries are equal, some fisheries are just more equal than others….

      • tangerines and lemons, Bill; tangerines and lemons. none of us know. if we take the sonar count as of yesterday, judge it 95 percent sockeye as the state has argued and do the math, you get about 7,500 kings up the river. 7,000 caught; 7,500 escaped. that looks a lot like last year. makes me really, really hope that Mykland is right. the problem, as always, is that once the fish are caught, you can’t put them back in the river. managers have tough calls to make here. and the whole picture this year is confusing. when the sonar started taking off days ago with so little fishing having gone on, i expected to see crazy high numbers, but instead the daily counts started falling and kept falling. go figure. low water?

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