Low Copper River sockeye returns leave state mulling closures
Initially poor runs of sockeye salmon on the Copper River have prompted the state to cancel at least one window for commercial fishing from the river, with future opportunities being reassessed based on tracking data.
The state Department of Fish and Game issued a Wednesday statement closing a planned Thursday window for Copper River commercial fishing, but allowing a subsistence fishing window on the same day to continue. The statement cited sonar data from Miles Lake as a key factor in the closure.
“Cumulative sonar count through (Tuesday) is 1,619 fish whereas 3,211 fish are projected by this date,” Fish and Game officials wrote. “The [6 a.m. Wednesday count] is 156 fish. Preliminary harvest estimate from the 12-hour period that occurred on Monday, May 21 was 1,440 Chinook and 3,870 sockeye salmon. This compares to a projected harvest of 79,400 sockeye salmon for this period.”
Art Nelson, a Fish and Game spokesman, said sockeye fishing from the river typically sees two 12-hour windows during the early season, on Mondays and Thursdays. Those windows expand during the season, as other salmon fisheries in Prince William Sound open and the fishing fleet disperses.
Fish and Game’s data shows about 6,000 Copper River sockeyes harvested during the first two openings of this year’s fishery – versus 134,000 by this time last year and 83,000 in 2016.
“It’s a little early to tell whether it’s just a cool spring or whether the run is just a little late,” Nelson said.
With initial deliveries of Copper River salmon fetching $74.99 a pound at Seattle’s Pike Place Market late last week, Nelson said fisheries managers will be considering whether to close individual commercial fishing windows going forward.
“They’ll probably be gathering over the weekend to reassess Monday,” Nelson said. “This’ll keep the prices up, but we’d like to see the volume come up as well.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately described units of Copper River sockeye harvest as thousands of pounds of fish, not thousands of fish.
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