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Seattle fish mongers  salmon-it-up when they had the fish/Pikes Places Fish Market photo

Whole, headed and gutted Copper River sockeye salmon going for $159.96 per fish in Seattle earlier this week might have looked badly over-priced to Alaskans, but that was then.

This is now: The return of sockeyes to Copper is this year looking so bad that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game eliminated today’s scheduled opening of the commercial fishery.

Most Lower fish markets are already reporting both Copper River reds and Chinook out-of-stock.

The reason? The dismal catch to date.

After the Monday opening, the entire catch for the season was less than 6,000 fish. .By this time last year  – a good but far from great year – Cordova-based commercial fishermen had already landed about six times as many sockeye.

Those catches came at a time when there was near panic about a forecast weak run of Chinook salmon. The forecast turned out to be wrong.

The appearance of a weak sockeye run to the Copper this year could also turn out to be wrong, but at the moment things aren’t looking good. Along with the dismal early catch and the closure of a regular fishing period – a sign state fishery managers are seriously worried – there’s an upriver, fish-counting sonar that’s barely clicking.

Monday was the biggest day of the year so far at the sonar with 532 fish going past. The projected daily goal for the day called for more than three times as many.

The cumulative count is also a third of what it should be at this point, and judging by the catch in the commercial fishery to date, a significant number of the fish going past the sonar could be Chinook, not sockeye.

More than 40 percent of the commercial catch to date has been comprised of Chinook, or king samon as Alaska more often call them. Those fish are going for $74.99 per pound in Seattle. 

As with sockeye, supply is already a problem. The Copper is a mixed stock fishery, meaning that the commercial openings are either open for both kings and sockeyes, or closed for both.

The preseason forecast called for a total return of about 1.9 million sockeye and 43,000 Chinook, but forecasting salmon returns is a far from an exact science.





20 replies »

  1. How many kings were harvested in the Glennallen federal subsistence fish wheel fishery in 2017?
    I rest my case.

  2. How many kings were harvested in the Glennallen federal subsistence fish wheel fishery in 2017?
    I rest my case.

  3. This response is directed to the “nattering nabobs of negativity”:
    The ice at the Miles Lake sonar, during early May 2018, meant lower water temperatures in the Copper River flow.
    ADF&G has a graph, that shows correlation, between fish passage and water temp, over last 20 years. If water temp is too cold, the sockeyes, do not head up, from barrier islands.
    Ice is now gone and fish count will increase dramatically, this week at sonar site.
    By the way, the chinook run, looks at least as good as last season.
    The commercial fleet will have a decent harvest on Monday.
    Plenty of fish will be headed upriver, to the subsistence fish wheels, personal use dippers and the sports crowd. There will be fish for all that participate.
    Thanks Craig, for another no nothing article, designed to stir up the anti-commercial crowd.
    Why not discuss the fact, that Conocco Phillips, makes a higher profit %, off of ANS, than any other of their worldwide oil production spots.

    It is much easier to blame the local 73% resident PWS/CR drift fisher, who is out on the Flats, working to support their family, community and local municipalities. Raw fish tax supports Alaskan coastal communities, to a large extent, even more important now, that the State has had to reduce financial support, due to budgetary concerns.
    Quit crying wolf! It is getting old!

    • Best of luck out there, James.
      Dan Jory recently reminded me that Dave Lorentzen always maintained that “a big run of reds starts big, is big in the middle and ends big.”
      While there is no doubt that those water temps. are involved in this year’s slow start, I have to go with the Lorentzen rule that it appears this year will not be a big run. I’m sure the fleet was out there at 50 fathoms during first two openers and didn’t find much (the fish clearly weren’t near the barrier islands). 12 hours tomorrow should give everyone an idea of what’s out there after a few days off.

      • last opener had a little bump up. 3140 kings and 1997 sockeye

      • Also heard the counter is down about 40k so may not be a Thursday opener. If enough gear heads to the Sound things could work out but I agree that this is a weak red run.

  4. Isn’t it likely the late the late copper run is due to cooler that average river or ocean water ? Also I think the high cost of wild fresh sockeye shows how much people prefer it over farm fish as well as closer to its true value if fisherman had some form of union to get a higher price . Just a thought.

    • the high cost of wild sockeye proves “behavioral economics” are worth studying. people spent a shit load of money on pet rocks once too.
      as an experiment, i came home from the Copper River with a load of fresh fish a couple of years ago and invited friends over for the feed. then i fed them all year-old Kenai salmon and let them believe they were eating fresh CR reds. they all raved at length about how much better fresh fish, and how they could obviously taste the difference over what had been in the freezer.
      it was absolutely, totally unanimous: the fish labeled “fresh” were way better even if they’d spent a year in the freezer.
      fresh CR salmon has a high value in May because people consider it a scarce commodity that’s special.

      • Placebo effect is strong. For 3 days my wife gave me decaf coffee. She told me it was regular. I raved on the strength of the boost it gave me . By the 4 th day of coffee I told her wow this coffee just isn’t doing the job ! Then truth came out ! It was decaf ! Placebo is strong . Even in scientific studies. It’s been well documented. Guessing some form of placebo effect was at hand with your salmon prank . Although I truly like Kenai and copper reds ! Dang good . Even a year old . Nothing like a Yukon king though! By the way I was pretty mad to find out I was drinking decaf ! Funny though.

  5. there is only one counter installed as of yesterday. Still to much ice on the other bank to put the other one up.

  6. You refer to it as a mixed stock fishery but it has always been a salmon fishery IMO. In my 25 years on the Flats we also caught chums early in season and later on regularly catch cohos along with late reds. And in one particular year we caught quite a few cohos early that were not Copper River fish-they were feeders and processors eventually bought them if we troll dressed them. Never did hear where those fish were headed but they hung around for a couple of weeks. Those chums caught early are also feeders and are caught offshore and used to bring 10 cents/lb, so hardly targeted, but I believe they were PWS fish.
    The key to the fishery is be sure you have a market before heading out.

    • The “key to the fishery” is to be sure you have fish to catch. It certainly is a bit to early to say that the fishery will fall flat this season. A little patience is in order. But if it does disappoint, perhaps it should not be a surprise. While returns claimed by the Dept in the past have sounded sustainable there is a question about their accuracy. Many old timers have said that Sockeye abundance has been down in the waters above the counter. They simply are not seeing as many fish as in the past. Does that sound familiar Could the Dept be miscounting? Similar claims have been made about the Sockeye counts in the Kenai River being contaminated by Pinks. Could that be happening in the Copper?
      The pink fishery is basically a cape seine fishery but many still move up river.
      Let’s hope that the Dept and the BOF get a better handle on the impacts caused by such huge releases of hatchery fish. Hopefully the fishery will pick up. In the meantime it is interesting to note how many Chinooks are being caught. Overharvest of them could and should trigger restrictions that will also impact the harvest of Sockeye.

      • The only pinks I’ve ever heard of being harvested on Flats is at the extreme West end of the fishery and those are PWS pinks that stray over the line. Not impossible but I’ve never heard of them going up the Copper. The cape seine fishery is no where near Copper but at West end of PWS and works along with the mostly terminal areas around hatcheries.
        A friend reminded me recently of an old saying that a big run on the Copper is big at the beginning, big in the middle and big at the end. Thus we can assume this years red run will not be a big one.

      • Poppycock!
        Pink salmon do not head up the Copper River (to spawn) in any measureable numbers.

      • “Over harvest” of the Chinook run? What are you the “fish pundit” of the week?
        Get a grip, the 2018 CR Chinook return, will be larger, than last season. In 2017, all of the upriver users participated, had opportunity, and the majority, got their share of kings.

      • James:
        You have been drinking too much of the hatchery’s cool aid. I have caught plenty of Pinks in several tribes of the Copper. If they were not spawners i don’t know what they doing over all those beds puking out eggs.
        And as for your claim that all the uprivers participated and had opportunity and the majority got their Kings, well, that truly is “poppycock”. If you are one of the gill netters or seiners fishing Cooper River bound Kings, I certainly understand your motivation for such statements. But that does not make them accurate! It has been a long time since Copper in river users have got their Kings. Pretty sure you know that fact.

      • No seiners are fishing Copper River bound kings. I suspect you are dreaming about catching pinks from the Copper, as well.

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