Copper River Fishery Perking Up

In the wake of two slow openers on May 14 and May 18, and a third period when no fishing was allowed, commercial harvesters on Alaska’s Copper River brought home an estimated 1,467 Chinooks and 33,752 sockeye salmon in the 12-hour Memorial Day opener.

That fourth period catch boosted the overall harvest to date for the famed Copper River to an estimated 45,537 fish, including 4,935 kings and 39,823 reds, which was, in the eyes of veteran harvester Jerry McCune of Cordova “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 schedule for Thursday, May 28.

“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.

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, Wash., 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.