Copper River Fishery Gets Off to a Slow Start

Commercial salmon harvesters are off to a slow start in the Copper River fishery, which in its first two 12-hour periods delivered a total of 3,255 Chinook and 6,025 sockeye salmon.

The celebrated opener on May 14 brought in 1,552 kings and 1,473 reds, for a total of only 3,059 salmon. One veteran harvester said he caught five fish in a total of eight sets. The second opener brought in 1,703 kings and 4,562 reds for a total of 6,382.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists said there would be no commercial fishery tomorrow, May 21 and that they would decide on Friday, May 22, whether there would be a commercial fishing period on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25.

Jeremy Botz, the finfish area management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova, Alaska, noted that the water had been cooler than normal, which could be one reason for the small harvest to date, or it could also be that it’s going to be a smaller run than anticipated. Sockeyes are averaging about five pounds apiece and the kings about 13.5 pounds, he said.

ADF&G also announced that Miles Lake sonar was up and running and that 24-hour counts of salmon would begin today.
The slow speed of the harvest notwithstanding, a portion of the first plane load of fresh Copper River fish to arrive in Seattle, Wash., went into gourmet dinners for more than 200 workers at Swedish Medical Center, a collaborative effort of Alaska Airlines, Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Copper River Seafoods, the Copper River Marketing Association and Seattle chef Tom Douglas. Trident and Douglas also teamed up this past Sunday for a “Grilling for Good” fundraiser, preparing Copper River sockeye entrees for purchase, with all proceeds going to Food Lifeline.

Much of the focus on the fishery has been on keeping harvesters, processors and the community safe from spread of the COVID-19 virus. To date one individual, who cleared a temperature check and interview before boarding a plane to Cordova, has tested positive twice, but has shown no outward signs of any infection. Cordova also had a visit this past week from a team of state and federal medical officials who came to see what facilities and equipment the city had to work with, should they get a surge in infections as more seafood processing workers showed up.