Copper River Salmon Fishery Opens May 16

Alaska’s famed Copper River salmon fishery, the harbinger of springtime in the 49th state, opens on Monday, May 16, with a harvest projection of 1.2 million sockeye, 293,000 coho and 9,000 chinook salmon. That’s the maximum harvest that could be achieved and still meet the minimum escapement goal of 24,000 fish given the total run projection, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists.

Such a harvest would be a step up from last year, when gillnetters on the Copper River harvested 635,968 reds and 9,654 kings, according to season summaries.

It’s generally hit or miss coming into the season, so far as the first opener, according to one industry observer affiliated with a processing firm who says he’s seen tremendous first openings and others with almost no fish available.

For this year, the weather forecasts currently indicate there won’t be any big problems weather-wise, but then this is Alaska. Gale warnings were posted several days in advance of the first opening, but the forecast was for them to die down by the weekend.

State biologists say that initial management strategy will be based on anticipated weekly sockeye and king harvests for the Copper River District and additional assessments of river conditions, fishing effort, harvest location, and consistency of harvest. When river conditions allow the deployment of the Miles Lake sonar, the attainment of the desired in-river escapement range for the upper Copper River becomes the main factor in deciding management strategy.

Two evenly spaced commercial fishing periods per week will be the preferred management approach, but the fishing schedule may be adjusted in-season as situations dictate, biologists said.

The maximum drift gillnet mesh size in Copper River District is 6 inches until July 15 when larger mesh gear will be allowed. All salmon that are harvested but not sold by commercial permit holders in Alaska waters must be reported on a fish ticket at the time of landing