Drift gillnetters in the Copper River fishery were on the grounds ready for a long awaited 12-hour opener on Wednesday, June 9, hoping for a robust harvest after two weeks of sitting on the beach. A good commercial harvest is, after all, the economic life blood of Cordova, on Alaska’s Prince William Sound, and demand for Copper River reds and kings is high.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists in Cordova made the decision on Tuesday, June 8, after seeing a big boost in the sonar count.
“We are back to getting into the goal range,” said Jeremy Botz, finfish area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova. “I think we are seeing a late compressed run.” Botz said he felt that while it may be a relatively small run, it’s still higher than in 2018 and 2020.
The collective Copper River harvest from three periods of fishing stood at an estimated 60,127 salmon from 1,192 deliveries, including 5,259 kings, 52,752 reds and 2,116 chum salmon. Fish are also starting to come in from the Coghill, Eschamy and Prince William Sound general seine fishery and a number of other commercial salmon fisheries will open soon statewide.
Jerry McCune, president of Cordova District Fishermen United, said that he felt that while ADF&G was being very cautious because initial numbers were flat, perhaps they were a bit too cautious. More real time reporting data is also needed on subsistence and personal use harvests, so the abundance of these harvests is known, he added.
Another veteran gillnetter from Cordova, John Renner, said ADF&G should have employed the fleet earlier to collect data, to see if the run was coming in weak or strong, rather than just waiting for the sonar count. Renner said that upwards of 40,000 salmon went past the counter on Tuesday, June 8.
“Nobody knows how many fish have gone up the river,” he said.
Renner estimates this is going to be a moderate run, maybe 1.2 million to 1.6 million fish, which would be double that of a year ago.
“They need to use the fishermen to learn what the run is doing,” he said. “We should use the commercial fleet as an indicator of abundance. How do they know what’s going on without us?”
There are 38 systems in the Copper, a very large and complicated system, he said. “The runs we had (fished) were early and they didn’t show much. It’s very tough for the commercial fleet to just sit on the beach. People are upset. It’s not the biologists’ fault, except for not using us to test for abundance.”