Fisheries board says no to emergency petition on Copper River fishery

The close of the day during the Copper River opener in May 2016 was overcast and moody, but the atmosphere on the water out in front of Cordova Harbor was celebratory. Several gillnetters lined up and waiting to deliver their fresh, world-renowned catch of Alaska Copper River Sockeye Salmon to the tenders just outside of the boat harbor. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

An emergency petition that would have increased closures and restrictions on the Copper River commercial salmon fishery that gets underway this week was defeated May 17 during a special meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries in Anchorage.

The vote was 3-4.

The Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee had submitted the petition asking the board to require the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to publish an additional emergency order on commercial fishery management actions to be taken to assure the sustainable escapement goal for king salmon for the Copper River in 2017. ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotten responded to the petition earlier, saying that he concluded that the situation did not warrant such action.

The Copper River fishery is a directed sockeye salmon commercial fishery, with incidental harvest of Chinook salmon, so the number of fishing periods a week and hours allowed are primarily designed for sockeye management, with inside closures for management of kings, Cotten said.

In recent years the department has restricted all Copper River non-subsistence salmon fisheries using its emergency order authority to reduce harvest, due to lower returns of king salmon to the Copper River.

Cotton said that the low forecast for the Copper River commercial fishery is not an unforeseen or unexpected event, and the department’s proposed management strategy for 2017 also is not unexpected.

ADF&G does not expect this year’s king salmon run forecast and anticipated low level of king harvests to affect the long term sustainability of Copper River king stocks. The agency has adequate tools with the existing management plans and its emergency order authority to manage the king salmon stocks in the Copper River in 2017 to meet the sustainable escapement goal, he said in his memo to the fisheries board.