Longer season yields lower Copper River salmon harvest

PWS preliminary harvest totals 19 million salmon of all species

Through the end of July, the commercial salmon fishery in the Copper River District was open 96 hours more than the recent 10-year average, yet the sockeye salmon harvest of 1.14 million fish came in 22 percent below the previous 10-year average.

According to the preliminary 2016 Prince William Sound salmon season summary compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the preseason commercial harvest forecast for the Copper River District was for 21,000 Chinook, 1.62 million sockeye and 201,000 coho salmon. The Gulkana Hatchery was projected to contribute 169,000 reds to the commercial common property fishery harvest.

The celebrated fishery opened on May 16. Through the end of July, all those openers added up to 756 hours, which was 96 hours more than the recent 10-year average, from 2006 through 2015, when the average harvest was 1.46 million fish.

The average sockeye caught in 2016 weighted 5.3 pounds, the second smallest on record, according to ADF&G fisheries researchers in Cordova, and the number of wild sockeyes in the Copper River District commercial common property fishery was 968,000, or 85 percent of that average.

Gulkana Hatchery’s contribution to that sockeye CCPF was 153,000 fish, or 13 percent of the harvest. Main Bay Hatchery contributed 16,800 fish, or 2 percent of the Copper River Harvest.

Meanwhile the CCPF harvest of 11,600 Chinook salmon was below the previous 10-year average of 17,200, while the season total coho salmon commercial harvest of 365,000 fish was nearly double the previous 10-year harvest of 201,000 silvers.

In the Bering River District, the preseason commercial harvest forecast was 14,000 sockeyes and 46,000 cohos. The commercial harvest of 9,400 reds was 23 percent above the previous 10-year average harvest of 7,600 fish, and the coho commercial harvest of 81,400 silvers was 80 percent above the previous 10-year harvest average of 45,300 fish.

Commercial fishing effort in both red and silver salmon fisheries was high due to productive fishing in the eastern portion of the Copper River Delta, ADF&G research biologists said.

Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. forecast a 2016 run of 2.15 million chum and 20,700 cohos to Wally Noerenberg Hatchery and required 1.17 million chum and 2,700 cohos for cost recovery and broodstock. The CCPF drift gillnet harvest of chum salmon for the Coghill District came in at 1.83 million fish.

PWSAC harvested 942,000 chums for cost recovery and broodstock. The CCPF drift gillnet harvest of sockeyes in the Coghill District was 67,100 fish, with the proportion of wild sockeyes in the Coghill District CCPF harvest at 10,500 fish.

The pink salmon CCPF drift gillnet harvest was 9,200 fish, and the CCPF drift gillnet harvest of cohos was six fish.

In the Eshamy District, PWSAC forecast a run of 1.60 million Main Bay Hatchery enhanced sockeye salmon. The CCPF harvest of sockeyes in the Eshamy District was 656,000 fish, or 41 percent below the forecast, while in the Unakwik District the CCPF drift gillnet harvest of 340 sockeyes was well below the 10-year average of 3,000 reds.

In the Montague District, Port Chalmers Subdistrict, the forecast was for a run of 330,000 chums, but the CCPF drift gillnet harvest of chums for Montague District was 100,500 fish, or 40 percent below forecast, ADF&G said.

The total preliminary Prince William Sound harvest, including chum, pink and coho salmon caught in purse seine fisheries, added up to 19,126,676 salmon, including 11,963 kings, 1.9 million reds, 477,893 silvers, 12.2 million humpies and 3.4 million chum salmon.

ADF&G expressed its thanks to PWSAC and the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association for providing funding assistance to ADF&G during the 2016 season. The department’s Prince William Sound management area program budget has been reduced close to 20 percent over the last two years and further cuts are anticipated, ADF&G said.

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.