Chitina shutdown


With more dust than salmon on the move, Copper River dipnetters put down their gear and take a break/Craig Medred photo

The bad news thousands of Alaskans dipnetters expected to hear is now official:


The Copper River personal-use fishery near Chitina will officially close at midnight Sunday and remain closed indefinitely.

“I imagine it’s going to stay closed for the summer,” area biologist Mark Somerville said Wednesday afternoon.

“The 2018 sockeye salmon run to the Copper River appears to be much weaker than expected and is the eight lowest count for this date since 1978,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in an emergency-order issued even later that day.

In a normal year, the Chitina fishery attracts about 10,000 Alaskans to the Wood Canyon area of the dusty, windswept corridor of the big, turbid glacier river about 250 miles east of Anchorage, the state’s largest city, and 300 miles southeast of Fairbanks, the state’s second largest city.

Limited to Alaska residents only, the Chitina dipnet fishery is a full-on, salmon-killing meat harvest that attracts those looking to fill their freezers for the winter. The closure will hit hard at those who count on the river’s bounty.

Some were head for Chitina as this was written in hopes of one last chance in a final fishery opening that starts Thursday. The prospects for success were not good.

Salmon few and small

Not only is the run past the fish-counting sonar at Miles Glacier unusually small this year,  but the harvest in the commercial fishery off the mouth of the river has been even smaller, an indication of few fish trying to get into the river.

The commercial season closed May 28 after three brief openings during which the 520 or so commercial permit holders from the seaside community of Cordova caught only 26,000 the Copper River sockeye so coveted by upscale restaurants the Lower 48 that prices being paid fishermen went to an unheard of $9.50 per pound.

Not many got to collect on the promise of those prices. The only smaller Copper River catch on record dates to 1980 when the state seriously clamped down on the commercial fishery to begin rebuilding depleted Copper River stocks.

The 1980 harvest was but 19,000 sockeye. In the 28 years that have followed, the next smallest commercial catch was 478,000 in 1981. The total return of sockeye – a combination of those caught and the salmon counted in-river – is at the moment a record low. But the in-river turn is expected to grow steadily in the weeks ahead given that only subsistence fishermen will be killing sockeye from now on.

They are expected to catch less than 75,000. The dipnet catch had been projected at more than 130,000. As of Tuesday, the sonar count for 2018 was lagging almost 100,000 fish behind the in-river goal. The shortfall is unprecedented in modern times.

Poor ocean survival is being blamed. Speculation has focused on food shortages tied to The Blob, a pool of unusually warm water that persisted in the Gulf of Alaska for two years; competition for food with about 1 billion hatchery pink salmon riding the ocean rivers of the North Pacific Ocean toward feeding grounds in the Bering Sea or some combination of the two.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is set to meet July 6 in Anchorage to discuss the salmon ranching issue and decide whether a state agency decision to allow the Valdez Fisheries Development Association to add another 10 million pink salmon to the flood of hatchery fish into Prince William Sound, which become the ocean-ranching capital of the North American West Coast.

Meanwhile, attention is shifting toward Cook Inlet where sockeye salmon are just beginning to return. The early run of fish to the Russian River has been low, but looks to be building normally.

The fate of the far bigger, later return to the Kenai River is at the moment a big question mark. There is no way of telling yet whether those fish ran into the same food shortages on the ocean pastures as depleted the Copper River run and left many of region’s returning sockeye on the thin side.

Sockeye returning to the Main Bay hatchery on Eshamy Island in the Sound are now averaging but 4.1 pounds, according to state reports. That is near the minimum size for spawning sockeye. The hatchery appears to be getting a better return than the Copper River, but the 65,000 sockeye caught to date, according to Fish and Game records, remain but a fraction of the 763,000 forecast by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association. 

The forecast was based on ocean survival of 7.56 percent of the hatchery fish. The rate now seems unlikely given what has been seen with the wild fish of the Copper.







51 replies »

      • Not really Bill, I am allowed 500 salmon. I will be able to share a lot of fish with my friends. So they can continue to eat CR reds and kings.

      • me too. This why having a PU area would not work in time of shortage.All alaskans have to do is get a subsistence dip net permit or a fish wheel permit.

      • I suspect that if enough Alaskans do what you suggest it will force an issue with the Feds that hasn’t really been dealt with IMO. In other words, the resource probably won’t be able to handle the pressure of everyone dealing with this issue as you suggest.
        It very well may be an issue that needs dealing with, however. The resource is what needs to be protected here, IMO, and nobody is well-served if the same folks that are prohibited from fishing are able to just get a different piece of paper and harvest the brood stock. I don’t know just how the Feds will respond to this but suspect it will depend on how many people show up to harvest the, so far, not harvestable fish (without harming the resource).

      • Al, here is F & G’s numbers for last year’s fishing: “Somerville says last years harvest in the personal use fishery was around 130,000 salmon, the subsistence fishery was about 58,000, sport fishing was around 4,000 fish, commercial fishing was around 600,000.”
        So………………… those numbers would most likely be lower just due to the lack of fish in the river this year. Never-the-less, if those subsistence numbers were upped, due to the different permit paper that you suggest, it’s not that hard to see how the resource would suffer (unless we do get a surge of fish in the river).

      • Your correct Bill. But when you manage from the blue water to the head waters. you end up with this senoro.
        Shifting efforts and method and means, is the fault of the BOF.

      • Pretty clear Al that there are different management authorities involved and that’s hardly the fault of B of Fish. This will be a tough call for all involved because its, so far, a clear emergency involving the resource and not a thing of allocation.
        Best of luck to all those involved.

      • The fault of the BOF is the history of the C&T findings in the area of the current PU.

      • I know not of what you speak, Al.
        I’ll mention here the talk on 660 KFAR some years ago, relative to an upcoming B of Fish meeting: I’m paraphrasing here “Those CR fishermen have 900 ft nets and the stretch them all the way across the Copper River keeping all fish from getting into the river.” I’m listening to this horse puckey on the radio and didn’t have a phone at the time (1980s).
        Anyway, I’d like to see anyone stretch a gillnet across the Copper river and if they had the horsepower to do it the leadline would be at the surface flagging out downstream. But those yahoos on KFAR bought it hook, line, and sinker Al. Folks choose to believe what they want to believe IMO.

      • Bill, what i speak of is, the BOF finding a positive C&T on all salmon on the copper. Then next clycle taking that finding away in what is now the PU area. It would have been easier to keep the positive finding and regulate the subsistence fishery. Instead, now you have alaskan shifting effort and method means. Thus the department will not know the harvest of subsistence caught fish till October.
        It is easier to manage two or three user groups, than four. When alaskans have options to get their fish.They will use what is afforded to them.

      • Well Al, perhaps a previous B of Fish caused this nightmare in management but that doesn’t get us to where we need to be. And that is some scheme that protects the resource in cases like this (where the resource appears to be in serious trouble).
        An emergency meeting of the Board could always be thought about but there may not be time. My guess is the Feds will cooperate and shut down some of their fisheries as there really is no reason to keep them open IMO (at this time).

      • Bill, the scheme is easy. Allow fish to enter the river to be counted, when an ample number of fish have been counted and there is no doubt that the SEG will be met. Open the fisheries. Not much chance of not meeting SEG this way. I would even allow the 2 early openers for commercial fish to get those highly prized reds to market. They did a good job on promoting those first fish for great money.

      • Problem with your scheme, Al is the counting of fish is about two weeks after the fish can be caught by commercial fleet and further, if a large number of fish are between counter and fleet nothing can be done about them but overescape the river.
        Granted the upriver folks love it when the river is full of fish but that’s not going to happen on B of Fish watch IMO. Further, should some ridiculous future Governor decide to allow some such scheme you can bet those CR fishermen would go the route of CI fishermen and force the Feds to take control of fishery outside of three miles.
        Without regular openings (especially in the first 4-5 periods) the early run could very easily enter the river without anyone knowing it. That’s something no fish manager would tolerate.
        Just my opinion!

      • Bill as i stated i would be in favor of a few openers for commercial fish. That gives us a pulse and a feel for the run. But then rely on some sound numbers from the counter to verify the condition of the run.

      • Like I said, there must be regular openings for at least first 4-5 openers as that is when the big push of fish takes place (4th and 5th openers). They don’t have to be 24 hour openers and I’ve even fished a 6 hour opener but 12 hr openers are common. Otherwise the managers don’t have any idea of what’s out there. Actually we have had the river plugged even with regular openers so it’s not a perfect system, either.
        Sometimes those fish just move and they can go from a mile off the beach through the barrier islands and into the river in a single tide. Not a regular occurrence but when it does happen it tends to be a large push of fish that doesn’t belong in the river IMO.
        Were I planning a weekend for dipnetting I wouldn’t be too upset with a river full of fish but no manager would want such a thing IMO. And a couple of openers wouldn’t give an adequate handle on the run as it’s just too unpredictable. Just one of those things where the counter is too far from the fleet-I have no idea how that distance could be shortened.

      • Well Bill i thought we could solve the issue on lol

      • We sure gave it a shot Al.
        The main thing is that fishers need access to some fish. What that some is, of course, is a difficult thing to address. For example, I have fished a small red run on the outside coast that used to have an allowable take of 25/day but you had to get rid of (or process) that 25 before you can go for another 25. Well, who (first of all needs more than 25 reds) and then who is going to make the 4-5 hour run to deliver the fish and head back out for another unneeded 25 fish.
        Anyway, the latest permits allow 50 total reds/family for the season that could be taken all at once or over several trips-that makes much more sense to me unless you lived nearby that creek (nobody does).
        These things are being adjusted regularly to provide that “access” and we are very fortunate to be able to even think of such, as lower 48 folks couldn’t dream of our fortune IMO. We have proxies that provide for those who can’t do their own access and, for the most part, everyone is given a reasonable access to salmon. Not perfect but most get their access.

      • Only true if you want to fish under a federal subsistence permit. All Alaskan residents are eligible to receive a State subsistence permit. Either a fish wheel or dip net above the bridge.

    • So getting subsistance permit and harvesting 500 reds on a run that needs to be preserved for the future, because subsistance people have no need to conserve the resourse for future generations, and sustainability is not thier concern. This is the definition of greed. Besides I need food for my dogs.

      • Paul, your are correct in pointing out a law that is not perfect. Nor how fish managers find out how many fish are going to enter the river system. Subsistence has the highest priority, yet commercial fish had taken 26,000 plus salmon, before any fish wheel in the river turned one time. The fish managers then decided to close commercial fishing. Then fish managers started to rely on the fish counters,thus closing the PU. So does subsistence fishers in the Glennallen sub-dist. really have the highest priority?

      • I am just not sure how anyone could eat 500 salmon, thats 10lb a day. Or why you would take that in the name of conservation. I suppose that using it for bait in your traps does constitute subsistance.

      • have no intention of harvesting 500 salmon, nor do i use some of the best fish in the world for trapping. My family i do eat at least one fish a week. I also will practice the customary and traditional use of sharing. I was perfectly find get my red salmon(40-50) in the PU. But now that i don’t have that option. i will have to pull out my subsistence card.

      • Al, I’m thinking you are being a bit unfair here as the 26k catch is less than 3% of the projected catch for commercial fleet. They were shut down once the reality of the serious situation became known and unfortunately the situation requires even greater closures than anyone could have dreamt IMO.
        With 20/20 hindsight we can now say that we all would like to put back those 26k salmon but the reality is that the Department did a tremendous job of curtailing that fishery with such minimum damage, considering the huge difference between forecast and actual.
        It’s just not possible that fishwheels can be operating before the open ocean harvesting-however there are subsistence fishing opportunities in the open ocean also for those wanting more of an equal shot at access to CR fish. They won’t let you use a fishwheel but you get a 50 fathom gillnet.

      • Bill, it does seem to be a bit unfair that commercial fish only got 3% of their allocation this year. But the law, as imperfect as it is. States that when the harvestable surplus is below the ANS. all other uses may be restricted or closed. Also if the run has very little harvestable surplus that can not meet the needs of all subsistence user. The subsistence fishery will go to Tier II, before a complete closer to the subsistence fishery. Now that’s what the law states. Is this what happens, no. In fact i have only known the law applied by statue only once. The fix maybe for the CR subsistence fishery would mirror the Yukon subsistence opportunity, fish windows. Open the subsistence a few days a week, to meet the “reasonable opportunity” that exists in the law.

      • Bill: the 26,000 is statistically irrelevant. it’s not even worth discussion. ADF&G handled things well and professionally in this case. end of discussion.
        meanwhile, ocean fisheries are kind of irrelevant to people living upstream in the Copper River basin. sort of like suggesting you could take the ferry to Seattle and buy cheaper beef there.

      • Well that may be the case, if there is a small harvestable surplus. But……………………..the case now, so far, is that there is “no harvestable surplus.” At this point, the early run has run into serious problems and probably shouldn’t be fished at all IMO (like I said, it’s too bad those 26k reds were harvested). That said, there is just no reason to not fish a fishery because of the remote possibility of a run failure (unless there is reason to believe a failure-like 1980).
        Obviously, should the delta run materialize enough to give a harvestable surplus then the other fisheries can be opened for those fish.
        By the way, I didn’t mean the unfairness was that the commercial fleet only got 3% of forecast but the unfairness was complaining that the upriver subsistence fishery was not getting a priority to fish that don’t exist (since no surplus). Nothing is fair when such an emergency occurs IMO.

      • Craig, here’s what I said: “With 20/20 hindsight we can now say that we all would like to put back those 26k salmon but the reality is that the Department did a tremendous job of curtailing that fishery with such minimum damage”-how is that different than your “ADF&G handled things well and professionally in this case.” ???
        By the way, as for the ocean subsistence fishery, I only mentioned it because it was available and still may be. The Department makes these fisheries available with the idea that there will be a harvestable surplus but emergency closures take place all the time when that surplus is no longer there. This was just innocent banter between Al and I, since he does the same thing by suggesting we all just get a permit and put in a fish wheel.
        Frankly, it would probably be easier to get a subsistence gillnet and boat that come by a fish wheel (as far as I know Amazon is not carrying them yet).

      • Bill and Craig, Guess all i was trying to do is point out that we have a law that no one fallows, dose not work for subsistence fishing for salmon, and does not protect subsistence user/uses.

      • only underling the latter part, Bill; and clarifying that the former doesn’t matter. i don’t care one way or another about putting those 26,000 back. i full expect that by the time we’re done here those 26,000 will exist within the range of measurement error for that sonar, making them totally irrelevant.
        and i would only note that one can build a fishwheel easier than a boat.

  1. I’m not intimately familiar with all on the more recently developed strategies for targeting king salmon in the dip net fishery but I understand that it is possible. Since the dip net is a selective type of gear and kings do not appear to be in short supply and harvest of kings is limited by the permit, was this considered?

  2. I will not comment on the CR situation, it is done for this season.

    The author of this blog, is missing the point on the MB hatchery sockeye return. Their run timing is the same as Coghill Lake reds (where hatchery brood was derived), peak return is 2nd week in July. The ‘18 run, has just started, and the harvest is average, for this date and time. The set net fleet is going at it, though majority of drifters, usually are not there, until around June 18th. That is when the fish start really showing up.
    The MB sockeye size, has been below average, for last four seasons, so no surprise, that they are small fish, this season.
    Still early to say, if the point estimate of 763K sockeye will return. We can revisit this in 3 weeks time. By that then the Bay will be heating up, along with other fisheries, and also the CR/PWS issues will fade away, in the public eye.

    The “warm water blob” created havoc in all fisheries in California, Oregon, Washington and BC (the Fraser River sockeye return, has seen some of the lowest returns ever, last 4 years), the salmon have not returned, in these four areas. The “blob” extended (science says California 5’year drought caused it) all the way up to the North Gulf Coast.

    If you believe in “Gobal Warming”, then blame this “blob” on the burning of fossil fuel. So, we Alaskans (along with the State & Alyeska) have a part in the reduction of our salmon returns.

    • What does PWSAC have to say about the Main Bay small size for the last four seasons? That seems to be before the “blob” IMO.
      I have to say that I’ve never experienced 4 lb sockeyes, either at MB or the Copper, and I’ve only been out of the fishery for 10 years. There is something wrong (MB and CR) with their ecosystems, for sure, but the CR failure (along with small size) is a huge wake-up call here IMO.

      • I just heard that the Resurrection Bay hatchery sockeyes are running about 4.5 lbs. Another sockeye run that’s experiencing small size.

      • Bill look up – what caused the earth to warm up in last 50 years. You will see many many studies,both sides of discussion. You will see valid reasons people are skeptics and valid reasons people are believers . Neither side is completely correct. You need to study more before you promote one side so extremely. Everyone knows humans probably add heat to the system . Yet it’s much more complicated than just that .

      • Give it a break Rayme! There are no studies that show there is not human caused warming. None! Everyone but you knows why we are warming in the last 50 years (at least most of the reason). I have no issue with skeptics, only those who insist on bullshit like you.
        Further, this post has to do with CR shutdown and only barely even refers to any kind of global warming. You are obsessing about water under the bridge.

      • You brought it up bill . Just trying to help you have a wider point of view . As you seemed so confused/ concerned on the subject. You asked for the info . I told you where to find it . Ignore the other views if you wish . Keep propagating your bs . I haven’t said I don’t believe in human caused global warming. You made that idea up in your own head . As you do with some of your other nonsense about people ,ideas and what they said or didn’t say . Wake up and smell the roses bill and stop being so thin skinned . Enjoy the sunshine!

      • I didn’t bring anything up, Rayme.
        Here is your bullshit: “Everyone knows humans probably add heat to the system.” You don’t have to say what you believe. Leave off the “probably” and you might be onto something.
        But you have every right to your own opinion-you are the expert on your opinion!
        It’s just that this comment section has nothing to do with your opinion on global warming. And you haven’t given a single “other view” that you keep referring to. Go ahead give us one! I’ll probably regret that invite but there it is.

      • Bill I will leave it up to you to easily find both sides of the discussion on global warming. To much info for me to transfer easily by text . But to show you how enormously off base you are in pigeon holing people I will tell you a bit of personal history that shows you bark up the wrong tree . Myself and family has been concerned with global warming for longer than I remember. 40 + years . We have used wind and solar power for 30 years . I have 20 large panels all over my house . We have been using rechargeable batteries for 30 years . Led in headlights since 1980 . My dad was probably one of first to do that . My brother built him custom lights . My family is obsessed with living green . So I know a zealot when I see one . Now do understand why I say you are usually off base when you claim to understand people? I know you don’t give a rats ass about my history nor does anyone else but you should try and see you are not good at assuming things. This might reduce how verbally vicious you are in your online discussions. Good luck

      • Bill,

        You do realize that the numbers below your name on every post on this blog is a timestamp, right? That means we can all see who posted what and when. You discuss the subject up and then you berate others for discussing up the subject you were discussing when they respond to your ranting and raving. You inability to discuss or even acknowledge any alternate point of view serves you well, that and your use of double negatives, oh and calling other viewpoints bullshit…that one really proves your point. Keep up the fight and spreading the global warming doctrine. It might serve you well to back away from the keyboard, enjoy the summer, try and have actual conversations with actual people.

        Have you had a chance to look up any of the, what was it you called them…encyclopedic, words that I shared with you on another thread? You know the information that shows the earth has warmed and cooled numerous times in the recent past?

      • Steve-O-for some reason you and Rayme want to bring this comment session around to your own feelings on “global warming.” Pretty clear that neither of you are willing to even take a position on the subject, as all you both do is refer us to some sort of contrived literature.
        That said, if you are that upset about my calling your position “bullshit” either prove it otherwise or move on.

      • Bill,

        Are you asking me to prove that I’m upset with you calling other people’s position bullshit?

    • Jim: the scientists have concluded “The Blob” was NOT linked to global warming but to natural variability:
      i put Eshamy/MB expectations in the story only because there is no way to tell at this time whether the return which looks normal will be normal.
      sockeye have run small there and elsewhere off and on. early Copper River fish were about 25 percent smaller than average in 2016, but increased to 5 pounds average. sockeye were small elsewhere, too:
      it will be a good thing if this was all the fault of “The Blob.” it’s certainly an easy target. but the verdict on its affects on Alaska salmon isn’t in yet. there is no doubt the The Blob messed with the food chain, but it’s complicated.
      at times The Blob was scrunched up against the Alaska coast, at other times it was far out in the Gulf of Alaska with the currents on which our young salmon ride – the rivers of the sea – spinning around its edges.
      as a general rule, warm water in the North Pacific hurts the lower 48 states you mention and helps Alaska. in general that appears to be the case again here, although The Blob might blamed for simply overcooking things too much in 2016 when the Alaska harvest fell to 112M. it was 263.5M the year before and 224.6M the year after. the first and last catches are on the high end of Alaska harvests.
      but, unfortunately, what is good for some salmon is not good for all salmon. pink and chum salmon, a lot of them ocean-ranched hatchery fish, accounted for 74 percent of the 224.6M harvest in 2017. there are some very good scientists with some interesting data suggesting human forcing of the food chain has led to hatchery fishing replacing and displacing wild sockeye, coho and Chinook.
      time will tell whether that proves to be the case, too.
      personally, i really, really hope they are wrong.

      • Craig, your link to “the blob” being just a natural variability probably does not do what you feel. Frankly that link does not even have the results of 2015-17 data in it.
        My guess is that there will be much more published, relative to the “blob”, that may/may not concur that global warming was not the cause.

      • there has been more research done since the study. the consensus remains that The Blob was an “outlier,” but that it might not have happened without an already warmer climate. has to do with the transference of energy from water to air.
        short version: global warming didn’t cause it.
        might have helped it happen, but didn’t cause it.

      • Craig, I go by James Now, though I was a Jim, up until 6th grade.

        Anyway, are those the same scientists (hired by EXXON), that claimed the EVOS had no effect on fish populations, within PWS? Why have we had no PWS Herring fishery, since the ‘90s?

        Scott Pruitt (current EPA Administrator), who once stated, that the EPA should be shut down, is debunking all claims of global warming. We will see what he does with the proposed Pepple Mine.

      • James: the herring question has been answered by non-Exxon scientists. the answer is freshwater, not the oil spill. so i guess you could blame the oil that made it to the lower 48 to be burned to increase global warming.
        the study did not get great media play, though it is very well done. i believe a couple of the scientists might have survived the death threats. it’s dangerous being objective these days.

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