Copper River Fishery Off to Slow Start

Commercial harvests of Copper River salmon got off to a cool, rainy start in mid-May, with two of the first five openers closed down and the combined harvest of kings, sockeyes and chums adding up to an estimated 45,537 fish.

The 12-hour Memorial Day opener brought in a harvest of 1,467 kings and 33,752 sockeyes, a big boost after two slow openers on May 14 and May 18, and fishermen were hoping for the run to increase by May 31.

But that fourth period harvest, in the eyes of veteran harvester Jerry McCune of Cordova was “still not good.” McCune, who is the president of Cordova District Fishermen United, said he was doubtful that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game would allow a harvest for the fifth opener. First, said McCune, there will have to be some improvement on escapement numbers into the river systems.

Cordova’s Bill Webber, another longtime fisherman and boat builder, agreed, noting that according to the latest Miles Lake sonar sheet count he’d seen the salmon were still behind on escapement upriver. Still he said there are definitely fish entering the Copper River Delta area now and he’s optimistic that the fishery, which may have started a little too early, will improve.

“We’ll see what we can do and hopefully we will do a little better,” he said.

ADF&G biologists apparently shared McCune’s and Webber’s doubt, and opted to close the fifth 12-hour opener, which would have been on May 28. Other Prince William Sound commercial fishing spots had not opened through the end of May.

The pressures of the Copper River opener aside, Cordova so far has kept the novel coronavirus at bay, thanks to strict mandates requiring everyone entering the community to immediately quarantine for 14-days. To date just one out-of-state processor worker has tested positive, while still in quarantine.

With the slow start of the fishery, fresh Copper River kings and reds were hard to come by in the Anchorage area. Costco and Fred Meyer stores still had plenty of refreshed, previously frozen Bristol Bay sockeye fillets for sale at $9.99 a pound.

In Seattle, meanwhile, prices for fresh Copper River kings and sockeyes were still commanding premium prices at the Pike Place Fish Market, including $659.99 for whole fresh Copper River kings and $174.99 for whole Copper River sockeyes