Demand Remains High for Limited Commercial Catch of Copper River Salmon

Female Chinook salmon running the rapids in a shallow river. File photo via Eiko Jones Photography.

Consumer appetites remain high for limited pounds of Copper River king and sockeye salmon, which are fetching up to $114.95 a pound and $79.95 a pound respectively in some retail markets, data show.

Fishmongers at Fred Meyer seafood counters in Anchorage said there was a lot of interest in those fresh Copper River sockeye salmon fillets at $35.95 a pound.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game anticipates the next opener for the Copper River will be Thursday, June 2. To date, ADF&G has cancelled two of five potential openings. ADF&G biologist Jeremy Botz in Cordova said Chinook salmon so far have come in above anticipated numbers and there is now room for optimism for keeping a regular commercial fishing schedule.

Veteran Copper River harvester Bill Webber said state fisheries officials were able to have a sonar counter installed on the south bank of the Copper River this past week as the amount of ice on the river diminished.

“This last period we fished we did fairly well, which is an indicator that the fish are starting to move into the Copper River Delta,” said Webber, who has been harvesting salmon from the Copper River for 55 years. He predicted there would be a good harvest in the upcoming opener.

The cumulative sonar count through May 27 was 6,808 fish, data show, compared to the 81,500 fish projected by that date. ADF&G officials said that both the north and south bank sonar counters are now up and running. They noted that the preliminary harvest estimate from the last 12-hour opener on May 26 was 1,980 kings and 69,300 sockeyes, compared to the projected harvest of 51,100 sockeyes for that period.

The grand total harvest to date for the Copper River has been 7,493 Chinooks, 94,458 sockeyes, 1,811 chum and two pink salmon.

ADF&G meanwhile, has kept the Bering River District closed to commercial fishing but opened the Coghill District to commercial drift gillnet harvesters for a 36-hour fishing period on Memorial Day.

A total of 384,000 Coghill Lake sockeyes were projected to be available for common property harvest through Aug. 1, according to Fish & Game.