Copper failure


A Copper River sockeye salmon/Craig Medred photo

The commercial fishing season for Copper River salmon – the most coveted of Alaska fish – is shaping up as a disaster for the isolated fishing community of Cordova.

Prices paid to fishermen are now reported at $9.50 per pound for prime fish, but there just aren’t many fish to be had and most of them are small.

“Absolutely unprecedented” is how Stormy Haught, the area research biologists for Alaska Department of Fish and Game described the situation Wednesday.

Haught is well aware of the long, detailed history of Cooper River commercial fisheries because he’s been back through all the data looking for a parallel to this season that might indicate to fishery managers how they can expect the run to play out going forward.

He can find no similar season. A decade ago, Haught noted, the sockeye run started off similarly slow, but by the third period the catch was taking off.

Not this year. Fish and Game was projecting a Monday harvest of almost 100,000 sockeye. The actual catch came in at a fifth of that. State sampling put the average weight of the fish at a measly 4.7 pounds.

That’s near the lowest normal weight of a species that grows to 15 pounds. Haught said scientists expect ocean conditions are to blame.

About 60 percent of the fish coming back this year went to sea in 2015 and swam out into “The Blob,” a huge pool of warm water in the North Pacific Ocean. 

They may have “migrated into an inhospitable environment,” Haught said.

That thought sends shivers down the spines of state fisheries managers waiting for sockeyes – one of the state’s most valuable fish – to show in other areas. Juvenile sockeye from Cook Inlet, Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula tend to share the same rearing areas as Copper River fish.

More restrictions

Because of the lack of sockeye, Cordova-based fishermen will spend a second, straight Thursday in port as Fish and Game tries to allow a greater number of sockeye to escape into the river.

The in-river sockeye count is lagging far behind expectations, as is the catch. After the first three openings of the season, the cumulative total catch is shy of 26,000, a little more than a quarter of what was expected to be caught on Monday alone.

Upriver, the situation is equally grim. The sonars that count fish entering the gray, glacial, slurry-like river have been lagging since first switched on back on May 10.

The first fish didn’t show for more than a week, and then there were but 27 of them. Low, cold water was blamed. The big hope was that the fish were gathering off the mouth of the river but delaying entry due to environmental conditions.

Increasingly, state fisheries biologist Mark Somerville said on Wednesday, “that’s kind of looking to be a pipe dream.”

The daily sonar count Tuesday was 6,390 – less than half the desired number of fish for the day. The cumulative count for the season, meanwhile, stood at 23,372, a mere 35 percent of the almost 68,000 fish managers would like to have in-river by now.

Glennallen-based Somerville oversees the popular, Chitina-area personal use dipnet fishery to which thousands of Alaska residents flock in early June in anticipation of those first, tasty salmon of summer and hopes of filling the freezer for the long winter that will come too soon.

The dipnet fishery was originally scheduled to open June 7 and run for 88 hours. The state on Tuesday issued an emergency order shortening the opening to 24 hours from noon June 9 to noon on June 10. 

Fishing is expected to be slow, and if returns continue at the present low rate, dipnetters can expect future fishing periods to be restricted as well.

Mediocore to worse

The return to the Copper this year was forecast to be below average at 1.7 million fish, about 400,000 sockeye off the 10-year average of 2.1 million.  But the forecast range went as low as 1.3 million for the 24,000-square-mile Copper River basin.

The river drains an Eastern Alaska wilderness about the size of Maine. It is home to more bears than people. But in the same it draws commercial fishermen from across the country to its mouth; dipnetters by the thousands from Anchorage and Fairbanks, the state’s two largest cities; and a smattering of anglers from around the globe to its clear water tributaries.

The sonar projections for how many fish should be in-river are based on the goal of seeing that a minimum of 644,000 sockeye escape the commerical fishery and get into the river to provide for spawning, subsistence, personal-use dipnetting and a tiny sport fishery that catches only about 15,000 sockeye per year.

The money fish for Copper River basin tourism businesses catering to anglers are king salmon, and the upside of the sockeye shortage is that less fishing time for the commercial fleet means fewer kings caught in gillnets, and that means more kings in-river.

Commercial harvest of kings to this point would indicate the return is likely to be in line with the preseason forecast of 43,000, which is near the 10-year average for the river.

The biggest of the Pacific salmon, kings – or Chinook as they are more often known elsewhere – are the also the least common of the Pacific salmon.

The Copper River fishery opened last year amidst panic about a king salmon run failure. The sport fishery was shut down before the first kings showed, and personal-use dipnetters were prohibited from keeping any kings that ended up in their nets.

The fears eventually turned out to be unwarranted. A return forecast at 29,000 fish total numbered 45,000 to 48,000.  Commercial fishermen caught 13,000, but the 32,000 to 35,000 that made it into the river were way above the in-river goal of 24,000 minimum.

The sport fisheries were reopened. Dipnetters were allowed to keep some kings. And everyone went home happy.

Many are now hoping the 2018 sockeye run plays out like the 2017 king run, but the chances of that appear low.










41 replies »

  1. Craig, for some reason you are ignoring my post that shows you have made an assumption that you cannot back up. Perhaps you will just blow it off like you did a few weeks ago when I said that Kenai guides get restricted on the river and you said I was mistaken-I showed you then the ruling and haven’t heard your comment on your blunder there and you may just ignore this blunder of yours, as well.
    It seems like you, along with Alaskans First (now T for C), are just winging it with your own numbers-burning facts like Sarah Sanders and perhaps even using that ash for your smokey eye. Clearly something is getting in your eyes, these days, if you are getting a sense the earth is flat because it feels that way.
    Anyway, your numbers for total run for those years 68-74 are not “facts” and can’t be used in any comparison to the years after that “over-escapement” in 87. F & G wasn’t able to collect catch numbers of sockeyes for those years, from fish tickets, so your statement “it appears there was no harvest in those years, and thus those numbers are total run” is nothing but a myth, since we are discussing myths.

    • Bill: i’m not ignoring you. i just don’t have the time to debate comments. if it was in a story i’d worry about it, but it’s not.
      ADF&G doesn’t report Coghill harvests for 68-74 in that study. i’m sure there was some incidental take at Eshamy as always. i don’t know why the lack of a Coghill report. the most likely reason is that there was no targeted fishery.
      it doesn’t matter anyway. the whole discussion is irrelevant. Coghill is a freak. you can’t compare it to anything.
      “Coghill Lake is an extremely harsh environment characterized by high inorganic turbidity, cold temperatures, short growing season, and a dense, anoxic saltwater mass that prevents metabolites, derived from the decomposition of organic material, from recirculating into the overlying oxygenated layers. Consequently, this lake may be more regulated by abiotic factors than biological interactions.” (
      we don’t have abiotic factors in play in the Copper River drainage.
      furthermore, you’ve got your dates wrong. 1987 saw an escapement of 187,263, but it was not surrounded by competition from large prior and post-year escapements:
      “A series of large escapements (greater than 100,000 spawners: 1980-1982 broods)
      produced better than 3 returns per spawner.”
      the three-year average escapement for 80-82 was roughly 159,000. for 86-88, it was roughly 111,000. you can get closer to 80-82, if you average 85-87, but even then you come up short at 141,000.
      Coghill returns plummeted because the return per spawner numbers crashed in the 1980s. the 1985 escapement saw a R/S of 0.1. the years that followed showed 0.4, 0.3, 0.7 and 0.3.
      why? nobody knows.
      was it because the lake was overstuffed with fry, overgrazed and smolt production fell as result.? that’s been theorized, but can’t be proven.
      there is no smolt out-migration data.
      “The ADF&G limnology laboratory in Soldotna suggested that the poor production for the 1985-1989 broods was a result of low densities of cyclopoid copepods (zooplankton), the primary food resource for rearing sockeye juveniles. It was hypothesized that the reduced abundance of zooplankton resulted from top-down or overgrazing effects by high fry densities. The average grazing pressure index, computed as the mean number of spawners per unit lake area divided by zooplankton biomass density was relatively high.”
      “relatively high” is not a conclusive “over-grazed.”
      meanwhile, is it possible other environmental factors contributed to that “reduced abundance of zooplankton?”
      most certainly.
      and then, of course, there is ocean survival.
      go ask Weyerheauser about that:
      “In 1985 the returns of private hatchery chum salmon were at a peak, 3,220 fish. This return of
      approximately 0.12% (per spawner) effectively ended significant interest in chum salmon” ranching in Oregon. (
      there was no over-escapement there. those fish were raised in hatcheries to eliminate all those troublesome in-river/in-lake problems. it is kind of interesting to note, however, now that i think about it, that Oregon’s great ocean-ranching dream was ending about the same time Coghill started coming apart because of poor ocean survival.
      so why don’t you do this:
      go dig up the data on the early-run, Russian River sockeye, which use a normal Alaska lake system, and compare those data to that Coghill freak. the early-run Russian run has been “uncontrolled” by a commercial fishery for decades now. there has been no crash.
      but i don’t know what the numbers say, and i don’t have the time to go look for them. i do know what the Kenai River late-run numbers say, and they are nothing like Coghill in terms of the low or the high in terms of R/S. the return per spawner there is in the range of 1.37 to 11.97.
      still a big range, to be sure, but nothing like 0.1 to 40.
      Coghill is a F-R-E-A-K.
      it had an escapement of 30,000 (exact middle of the old range of 20,000 to 40,000) in 2005 and returned 0.83 adults per spawner. it was over-escaped two years later at 70,000 (75 percent above the maximum) and returned 8.95 adults per spawner.
      the upper limit was later raised to 60,000 with ADF&G now saying 61,000 appears to produce the optimum yield, but warning that there is need for more study of “the possible influence of recent large escapements of sockeye salmon to Coghill Lake in 2011 and 2012 and large returns of pink salmon to PWS in 2013 and 2015.”
      and, of course, there was also this: “the authors of that (density dependence) study found that the performance (fit) of the Ricker (escapement) model was significantly improved by adding a covariate for returning adult hatchery pink salmon during the year that sockeye salmon enter the marine environment.”
      the suggestion there, though i’m sure i don’t have to explain it to you, is that there might be years in which out-migrating Coghill sockeye run into a wall of hungry pink salmon gorging themselves on their way back to PWS hatcheries thinking they needed to fatten up to spawn (foolish fish).
      so not only is Coghill a F-R-E-A-K; it is a F-R-E-A-K influenced by human tampering due to the huge number of hatchery fish added to PWS since the 1980s.
      so enough with this. my point was and is that the Coghill system is not valid as a comparison to any other sockeye system of which i am aware on the Alaska coast because it’s not.
      it’s a F-R-E-A-K.

      • Again Craig, nobody was/is comparing Coghill to Copper River or any other system, just that it was clearly a case of over-escapement causing a collapse in subsequent runs. You keep calling it a FREAK but, as I mentioned earlier, the F & G studies include it and so obviously they don’t discount it like you.
        That fishery couldn’t handle the extra escapement and required a four year fertilization of the lake to attempt to bring it back. It collapsed (as in a cliff) and you still are trying to discount it. Why? My belief is that its because it doesn’t fit with your BS theory. Further, your opinion that the most likely reason for F & G numbers for Coghill not being collected is “not” because there was no targeted fishery. What reason would there be for that? Also, there would be much more than incidental take at Eshamy, as well as Ester, as those two districts get all the Coghill fish coming through them. And as Rick (below) has said he recalled fishing four days a week during the years 70-74 and you need a better lie for your theories.

      • Bill: you’re citing Coghill as your demonstration of “over-escapement.” have you actually read the studies? there are a lot of them.
        none of them conclude the decline there was due to over-escapement. they suggest it as one theory.
        to take that as the smoking gun in the argument that over-escapement will lead to salmon runs collapsing is just dishonest. the science says otherwise.
        again, i’d point you to early Russian River sockeye. it’s probably as close as we get to an untampered system. what’s happened there?
        where’s the evidence for the inevitable build up to over-escapement followed by the big “collapse”?
        there is scientific evidence to indicate you are likely to get a lower return per spawner at escapement above some maximum (although the maximum is a constantly shifting target), but even then you might get a higher yield (as in more harvest) at escapements above that number.
        that’s not my “theory.” it’s what the data says.
        as for Rick’s recall, well, it’s as good as the data to support it. the one thing i’ve learned in decades of reporting is that recall is worthless:
        “it was always colder; it was always warmer; it always snowed more; it always snowed less, etc., etc., etc.”
        but when you actually go back and correlate people’s memories against the data, you often find out how bad memory. if there are some numbers for sockeye harvests in the Coghill District in the years in question, dig them out.
        Rick could be right. it could also be that the Coghill sockeye run was weak in those days and because of that there were no Coghill District openings, which would explain why the catch data isn’t in the report.
        i won’t even get into interception issues. obviously too complicated. the drift fleet was focused on hatchery returns in 2016 and still caught about half of the miserable Coghill return of 17,000 sockeye. (forecast of 110,00).
        then the forecast got pushed down to 74,000 for last year, and because of that restrictions were placed on the drifters to keep them off Coghill fish. as a result, they caught 32,600 – about three times as many as in 2016.
        but, of course, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter because the forecast was significantly off again, although closer at a total return of about 83,000. (
        so why are we talking about Coghill again? it’s representative of what in terms of sockeye salmon management in the Copper or Kenai or other major watersheds?

      • I think that you might be wasting your time engaging in argument with B.Y. You provide data and he says you are full of s—t. You give him ADF&G cites and he calls you a liar. Maybe makes juicy reading for some but no longer much help. You could argue that the sun rises in the east and he would probably say “ bullchit”. Some seem to believe that the Dept is infallible as long as it keeps pumping out those hatchery fish. The Dept knows it is wrong occasionally but is loath to admit it. You don’t get promoted admitting you made mistakes.

      • Craig, I remember once you told me never to assume and here you are making assumptions and “most likely” statements. We don’t know why Coghill catch records were not made before 75 but its not “most likely” because they were not targeted, but for F & G reasons they were not captured separately. It just seems like the Department only decided to separate them out from 75 on for their reasons (budget increases IMO).
        Anyway, those numbers that are separated out are due to the fish tickets, and how tendermen fill in those tickets, which can influence the numbers. Before 75 there may not have been tenders that took fish at Coghill River and fishermen (most likely both gillnet and seine) would have run their fish to the tender and, if there was no incentive to separate out Coghill fish, they would not have been listed as such. I find it virtually impossible that Coghill District was closed to fishing for all those years and I also suspect that’s when the Coghill weir was first maintained (68). And, as mentioned previously, F & G (in my original link) did not include the years (68-74) when they spoke of total Coghill sockeye run: “Thus, since 1975 the total return has averaged 270,000 sockeye.” Notice that they didn’t stoop you your low of assuming there was no catch (because they know, just not how many).
        You can continue to beat around this BS bush but in comes down to you’ve made a blunder here and just can’t admit it. As far as other theories about over-escapement at Coghill’s 87 run, I expect they (whomever they are) were just trying to patch up the incredible black eye the Department got for their shutting down that fishery just prior to July4, 87 and the big guy (I’ve forgotten his name) disappears and can’t be accessed when those folks at the weir started seeing that push of fish. Whomever these theorists are, none of them ever showed their face in Cordova as they would have been laughed out of town IMO. Here is statement from the original link I provided:
        “. however, indirect evidence strongly suggests that overescapements
        may have overgrazed the macrozooplankton community and had a long-term adverse impact
        on subsequent fry recruitment.” These guys got it and it also took four years of fertilizing that lake to attempt to get it back into production (after that blunder). The Department took a huge hit with their cavalier approach to that fishery and even when the problem was first discovered the Department couldn’t fix it because they couldn’t reach the main guy because he was 4th of July partying.

  2. Who made up that rule, Craig? You? Last year the Esther dog run was late, but it ended up being exceptionally strong. Late is a matter of perception. Fish come when the conditions are right. As for how strong the run is, that depends on a myriad of conditions from the spawning grounds to the Ocean and back. What the water temperature and river flow is when it’s time to return has no affect on how large the run is.

    • beats me, but it predates Carl Rosier because i believe he’s the one who told it to me.

      fish come when fish come. sometimes a run is just late. sometimes its strong even though it’s late, which has happened on the Kenai a few times, too. sometimes it can be tied to some environmental factor. sometimes not.

      the fact remains that most runs when late turn out to be weak.

      and you are right. the size of the run depends on a myriad of factors, but in-river survival is the least of them. just ask Weyerhauser about that. it once had great hopes for the salmon -ranching business in the PNW. it raised little salmon in perfect conditions and released them into the ocean at the perfect time. it eliminated all those pesky in-river issues.

      and then what happened?

  3. Interesting to note that in the parent year to this years Copper red run, they were vastly overescaped. 1.27 million fish were counted at miles lake that year, as opposed to an escapement goal of 600,000. Is this really an indicator that overcroowding in the streams hurts production. I would also like to say that for conservation we need accountability of all user groups, we need to know how many fish all user groups are taking out of the river. Not just the commercial fisherman.

    • the state has been down the “over escapement” road, Paul, and came to the conclusion that “there is no evidence to suggest that production (as measured by yield from combined upper and delta
      stocks) is reduced with higher escapements.” (
      but even if that scientific assessment was wrong, all escapement studies put return per spawner estimates on a bell curve. there’s no cliff.
      if this thing keeps going likes they’re going on the Copper now, it’s a cliff. we ended May with only 35 percent of the projected number of sockeye needed in the river – despite cutting commercial openings in half.
      if we continue fishing only one day per week, and this present trend continues, we’d end the season with only 225,000 sockeye in-river which would be a bloody disaster.
      hopefully, the trend will turn. i expected that Thursday with a 0600 sonar count that hit 1,656. based on the relationship between early morning counts and earlier daily returns, i was figuring something like 9,200 on the day, which would have been short of the daily projected need by about 4,500 fish but continuing and upward trend in the return.
      instead, the daily count was 7,206 – about 1,000 thousand less than the day before.
      hopefully this will all at some point turn around, but at the moment the numbers do look ominous.
      that said, i agree with you that it would be good to have better reporting on subsistence and personal-use harvests. there’s no reason those folks should be reporting catches online in real time.
      but if your suggestion is that there’s some sort of bandit fishery secretly removing hundreds of thousands of fish from the river, it runs counter to the claim of over-escapement. and how how would one get large numbers of these fish into the processing stream? it be possible to move a few tens of thousands of fish in a secret commercial fishery, but it’s hard to believe more than that.

      • This run is one more data point for the overescapement theory, as was Coghill river in 1980.
        I am just saying all fish taken from the river should be counted. Often there is no enforcement upriver, not saying the honor system doesn’t work just perfect hehe.

      • If you look at Coghill River escapement in 1987 you will see that there is a cliff. The strange thing about that year is that almost all of those fish went across the weir in two days, rather than over a season. 1982 escapement was nearly as large as 87 but that was from an unusually large year of over a million fish return and their escapements came throughout the season.
        That 87 escapement ruined the lake for too many years-it should never have happened but it did. Enormous mistake but s*** happens.

      • Bill: Coghill is a unique system. it is a tiny, freshwater lake sitting atop a pool of saltwater which prevents it from turning over like a normal lake. you can’t really compare it to anything. i guess there could be another lake like this out there somewhere, but i’m not aware of it.

        i did try to run some calculations as to how many fish you’d need to put up the Copper River to equal the Coghill situation on the volume of rearing habitat basis alone, but the numbers got too big for my computer.

        Coghill is a 12-square-mile lake. Paxon Lake alone is more than 25 times bigger and then you have Taslina and Klutina and Tonsina and numerous others, not counting the smaller systems like Long Lake.

        there is a good argument to be made that ADF&G screwed up the management of Coghill Lake, but even if you go back and look at the numbers after the crash in that report you link, the return was 22,000 to 25,000 which is about 60 percent of the average from ’68 to ’74 and well within a range that dropped as low as 11,800 in those years.

        that would be the definition of a bell curve. the run went over the top and then got stuck on the downhill side of the curve.

        a cliff is when you fall off and go “splat!” a splat is bits and pieces.

        and then, of course, there’s this from a follow-up study in 1994 which hedges the bet – “results indicate that the effect of overescapement on freshwater rearing capacity offers at least a partial explanation for the collapse of the Coghill sockeye run” – and suggests part of the reason for low returns might be that “achievingadequate escapement has been problematic due to the possible interception of sockeye in the commercial gillnet fisheries within the Eshamy and Coghill Districts.”

      • Craig, your numbers given for 68 to 74 are only for escapement and don’t really compare to total return. You obviously have an agenda here and are willing to go just about anywhere to prove your point, which IMO is horsechit.
        If this situation didn’t go splat, then nothing ever has, also IMO.

      • not my numbers, Bill. ADF&G numbers. it appears there was no harvest in those years, and thus those numbers are total run.
        and, of course, i have an agenda on this, a simple one. the Coghill system is unique. you can’t compare it to anything.
        Bristol Bay or the Kenai would be better comparisons, and there they have been compared, and “as seen in the review of salmon stocks in British Columbia (Walters et al. 2004) we
        did not observe long-term stock collapse of any of the 40 stocks that could be attributed to
        overescapement. We did observe one stock that failed to produce sustained yields on average
        (Italio, Appendix B7). The watershed that supports this stock (Italio River) has undergone
        significant natural changes in habitat, leading to a loss of productive capacity and a closure of the
        as a matter of simply fishery math based on what is known, i’d expect that if the state allowed 2-3M sockeye up the Copper River for several years running, we’d see some density dependent declines in production. but i don’t think we have to worry about that.

      • The good news today is the 6 am count had a significant increase to 2148 fish. Escapement goals will be met, They will not fish till the counter catches up, and it will.
        Coghill lake over escapement is an example of what can happen when too many fish escape. I do not discount that Ocean conditions were a factor also in this years CR Red run. On your fb comments on this post Trae, who is on the salmon harvest task force in conjuction w adfg posted his findings. “in talking to biologists both downriver and upriver I have got the sense they think that there was strain placed on upriver systems from very high red escapement. The upper watersheds of the Copper could handle a large escapement if they were distributed evenly among systems but if what I have been told is correct the large early runs we had been seeing have predominately gone into one or two systems and completely plugged them. That being said i certainly don’t discredit that ocean conditions could be a major culprit and I personally caught reds with hooligans or caplin inside them.”

      • Coghill over-escapement is an example of nothing. it isn’t comparable to any other system in the state, probably the world.
        and i have a “sense” from talking to biologists they think the earth is flat. it certainly doesn’t feel like a sphere.
        every study of sockeye salmon in big river systems has come to the same conclusion: “there is no evidence for anything like a ‘collapse” or a ‘near collapse’ of production following runs with very large numbers of spawners.”
        there was no biological over-escapement on the Copper River. it’s a myth commercial fishermen tell themselves.
        what there was was an economic over-escapement. on that i sympathize. we don’t do a very good job in this state of managing fisheries for the best economic return.
        meanwhile, like you, i’m optimistic we will get escapement. the minimum is not a very big number. we should get it. and the 6 a.m. today looks better, but i thought that the other day, too, and then it went flat.
        a couple two, three days with the counter over the daily projection would make me feel a lot better as someone interested in salmon conservation. but i understand people who have boat payments to make. you can’t pay the bills with future catch. you need catch today to do that.
        we sometimes forget that salmon conservation is a big luxury. it can only happen in places where people have other means of economic support.

      • Craig, you must think we are all a bunch of low-watt bulbs on here. Here are the harvest numbers of sockeyes from 71-74 for sockeyes from PWS:
        Now I don’t know who is giving you your numbers for those years as zero for Coghill, but I can definitely say they don’t know what they are talking about. There are only three wild runs in the Sound (Coghill, Eshamy, Unakwik) and with the exception of Unakwik (pretty small catch) any fishing around Eshamy would be catching Coghill reds.
        Anyway, you may think there was no fishing of Coghill reds (for your own trumped up reasons) but the facts don’t bear it out. Also on page 9 of original link shows escapements of sockeyes from 68 on, but at the end of the page they refer to total runs and only compare years 75 on. In other words, for whatever reason F & G didn’t break out the numbers for catch for Coghill fishery but that doesn’t mean there was no fishery or that no Coghill fish were caught.
        And by the way, I wasn’t comparing Coghill fishery to anything-only giving an example of where over-escapement can collapse a salmon fishery and Coghill gives that in Spades.

      • No harvest from 68-74 on Coghill reds? As someone who was harvesting Coghill reds from 1970-1974 I call Horse Pucky. We were fishing Monday morning until Friday evening every week in those years.

        Better find a different lie to support your theories.

      • Coghill District openings or 225-10/225-20 openings? i don’t see any harvest numbers for Coghill District openings in that period, but they’re so far back it’s possible no one ever put them in the computer.

        but it’s all kind of irrelevant anyway. the Coghill data, in general, just illustrates the importance of ocean survival. Coghill has been all over the place on that from returns of 39.6 sockeye per spawner to returns of 0.1.

        the 1989 escapement of 36,881 – which is nicely within the BEG – produced a return of 36,881. my old college classmate Brian Bue, who authored the 2002 escapement review summed things pretty well:

        “Coghill Lake is an extremely harsh environment characterized by high inorganic turbidity, cold temperatures, short growing season, and a dense, anoxic saltwater mass that prevents metabolites, derived from the decomposition of organic material, from recirculating into the overlying oxygenated layers. Consequently, this lake may be more regulated by abiotic factors than biological interactions.” (

        or, in simpler and shorter English, Coghill Lake is a freak.

        anyone who tries to use it as a comparative for any other salmon system doesn’t understand science. Coghill Lake might be considered the marine equivalent of an island. comparing Coghill Lake sockeye to Copper River sockeye is like comparing the dynamics of Sitka blacktail deer and wolves on Coronation Island to the dynamics of Sitka blacktail deer and wolves of the entire Alaska Panhandle.

      • Keep up the bullshit Craig. The district numbers come from the fish tickets and most likely they didn’t record Coghill District back then but your position that no Coghill fish were harvested is just plain horsepuckey as they would have been harvested in both Ester and Eshamy districts passing through (even if Coghill district didn’t have openings, I suspect they did). To more explain it, after that over-escapement disaster in 87 the Eshamy district fishery kept us inside Main Bay to keep us from taking any Coghill sockeyes and nobody could fish anywhere near Coghill River.
        Further, nobody is really comparing Coghill Lake thing to Copper River that you keep coming back to. And in your own article from F & G includes Coghill Lake over-escapement along with the others they studies so they considered them comparable enough to include them.
        Your bit about Coghill Lake being a harsh environment also doesn’t compute, to me. Explain how they got a return of over a million reds in 82 then. Granted that was an outlier, it has produced a lot of sockeyes for the fleet and that disaster in late 80s caused a lot of grief.
        As far as your earlier BS about bell curves, go ahead and do your comparison using escapements (rather than total return, since your total return numbers are BS) and explain how this did not drop off a cliff.

      • Bill: i’m beginning to wonder if you can read.
        i sent you links to explain your misinterpretation of a 1987 “over-escapement disaster,” and in those links is the clear explanation of how Coghill got a return over of 1 million sockeye.
        40 adults came back for every spawner. i don’t know of any other carefully tracked systemthat has ever had that kind of luck.
        if Coghill produced that way every year, you’d only need an escapement of 25,000 to be annually awash in fish.
        and just think if the Kenai did that?
        1 million X 40 = 40 million fish per year coming back. UCI would need to bring in extra processing capacity from elsewhere to handle the harvest. drifters would be begging Kenai dipnetters to catch more and help stop the dreaded “over-escapement.” non-resident, sport-fish license fees might even be lowered and snagging allowed to help with that OE problem.
        maybe the state would even allow my dream of a sockeye spear fishery.

      • Did you recently write an article about to many fish being released in the ocean by PWSAC. Seems like your opinion was to many fish is bad, yet you say over escaping river systems is fine. You write with an agenda Craig. I always keep in mind when I read your work, you write opinion pieces.

      • define “over-escaping.” is that by return per spawner, yield or some other nebulous standard?

        is that based on best science BEGs/OEGs or old, best-guess BEGs/OEGs?

        but what i wrote wasn’t that over-escaping rivers is “fine;” what i wrote is that all of the science on sockeyes in major spawning systems has concluded that “there is no evidence for anything like a ‘collapse” or a ‘near collapse’ of production following runs with very large numbers of spawners.” (

        and i did write a story reporting that recent scientific studies have come to the conclusion that dumping a billion hatchery fish in the ocean has ecosystem wide consequences. whether that is “bad” or “good” is a value judgement.

        i don’t have one, although i can see those of others. if you’re a PWS seiner, it’s clearly good. if you’re a PWS sound drifter, it could be good, and it could be bad. if you’re a Cook Inlet sockeye fishermen of any sort and those hatchery fish are displacing and replacing Cook Inlet sockeye, it’s bad.

        but that’s an analysis based on peoples’ personal, economic self interest. there are some motivated by other than money. it’s harder to fairly divine their opinions.

    • The Copper River 2018 sockeye return, is currently, below pre season forecasts. Historically, the early sockeye return, has peaked, by June 5th. The summer run ramps up, with the added Delta stocks, starting around June 15th.
      The commercial fleet’s fishing time, will be curtailed, during next couple weeks, if ADF&G, is concerned, about falling short of desired fish escapement. There are no guarantees, that commercial fleet will fish, even one day per week.
      The fleet has been shut down, for up to two weeks, in past seasons to achieve sustainability. So, please do not worry. The upper Copper River will achieve the SEG on both chinook and sockeye in 2018.
      Do not be a Negative Nancy!

  4. Copper escapement was up today, as was the 6 am count, not getting the anticipated daily, but iit is increasing and if you look back 5 days ago they would have what they want, may have been a late year with ice inriver, though still a weak run needing conservation. My bet is they will get escapement. Even though most of what they counted is likely all kings, can they tell the difference?

    • My understanding is the new counter is supposed to be able to tell the difference. We’ll see.
      I think your bet is safe and also suspect a lot of those counted are kings.
      Should be good king fishing in rivers with lots of pics of dark red 30 plus kings held up to show off before releasing.

  5. It’s very unfortunate that Copper River reds are in short supply so far this year, I hope that changes soon. What I like about this “fish story” is that the villain is the blob and the hero’s are those oft maligned fish biologists with the ADFG doing what needs to be done based on their hard won assessment.

    • Unlikely that things will change IMO. Historically the third and fourth periods on the Copper are the big ones and this year third was cancelled and fourth was a complete bust.
      Bright spot is that king salmon are coming in fairly good numbers. And with inside closures and so many tides without commercial fishing there should be excellent king escapements into the river.

    • The biologists are often part of the solution while managers are sometimes part of the problem. Mainly because of the political
      pressures put on them by the users and now days the administration. Biologists are often frustrated by managers who after biological recommendations find themselves overruled by a local Manager who has been pressured by one user group or another. Hopefully managers and biologists can stay on the same page this season when deciding Cooper River restrictions during what appears to be a poor run.

      • Quite a mouthful there AF-why not give us an example (on the Copper) where managers and biologists conflicted? How about a few biologists that have expressed their dissatisfaction with their managers (or do they just talk to you)?
        You just spout off with your opinions with nothing to back them up. What sort of pressure do you see coming from a user in this years Copper Fishery?? Exactly-“none!”

      • TforC: What is exactly your issue with the department? The local ADF&G biologists, in Cordova, are also the local managers, of the ground fish, purse seine, drift and set net fisheries. They are doing a great job, by managing the fisheries for sustainability.
        Quit whining, it is does not help!

  6. What’s the problem, Craig? Don’t you think those fishermen are just thawing out some of last year’s frozen Kenai River reds and marketing them as CR fish? Who would be able to tell the difference?

    • Good question who would know the difference?Unless the fish had some frost bite.

      • yes, sometimes managers get lucky and the run is late, not weak.
        sadly, counting on luck is not a good way to manage fisheries. salmon managers have to be pessimists or escapements will seldom be met. fishermen are optimists because it’s depressing to be otherwise.
        it puts the two at odds.
        and it wasn’t just coho in Cook Inlet last year. if you remember, the sockeye fishery was shut down in late July because Kenai River escapement was badly lagging. and then the fish showed up.
        hopefully, that is what will happen on the Cooper this year. but to count on that sort of luck instead of doing the sensible thing risks disaster.
        the golden rule for fish managers is this: when runs are late, they are usually weak.

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