Kings looking good, sockeyes are slow

Harvesters netting $15.50 a pound for Chinooks, $10.50 a pound for reds, plus 50 cent dock fee

Bowpickers head out to the Copper River Delta for the first commercial Copper River salmon opener on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times

Updated at 4:00 p.m., May 18

Early reports for the 2018 opener of the famed Copper River salmon fishery are that the Chinooks are looking good, but the sockeye harvest is slow.

That was the first assessment from Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova, just over 24 hours after the fishery began in drizzly rain, with temperatures in the low 40s.

The catch included some 2,800 Chinooks, and 1,900 sockeyes, which were fetching harvesters $15.50 a pound, and $10.50 a pound respectively, both with an additional 50 cents for dock delivery.

“It was a good start for Chinooks, and exceptionally low for sockeyes,” Botz said.

Average weights were 16.3 pounds for kings and 5 pounds for reds, he said.

With cooler temperatures and the way winds were pushing fish around, there were more on the west side, he said.

The next subsistence opener is from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 19, and the next commercial opener is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, May 21.

While the catch, as healthy as ever, appeared on the low end in numbers of fish caught, reports of prices were all over the board after the first 12-hour fishery closed on May 17.

Prices posted at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle on May 18 were $59.99 a pound for whole Copper River kings, $74.99 a pound for Copper River king fillets, $119.96 per fish for whole Copper River sockeyes and $39.99 a pound for Copper River red fillets.

In Anchorage, 10th & M Seafoods had announced their price at $34.95 a pound for sockeyes and $49.95 a pound for kings, plus $65.95 a pound for king fillets.

The online merchant FishEx in Anchorage was posting $79.95 a pound for Copper River king fillets, and $46.95 a pound for Copper River sockeye fillets.

A few harvesters and processors alike said that both the reds and kings from the first run appeared smaller than usual.

“There are not a lot of fish being caught,” said veteran harvester Bill Webber, out on the grounds for his 51st year.

Webber said he doesn’t know why the run has started out weak, but said the commercial fleet is doing its part for conservation. On the bright side, Webber said, environmental conditions this year are more normal than they have been in the last three or four years. Alaska wild salmon are cold water salmon, so hopefully all this warm water will bode well for the fishery, he said.

Meanwhile in Seattle and Anchorage, events were planned to celebrate with gusto the arrival of those first Copper River reds and kings, from a cook-off on the tarmac at Sea-Tac airport to wild Copper River salmon entrees and other festivities in Seattle and Anchorage restaurants.

Check back with The Cordova Times for more fisheries news and coverage of the first fish red carpet event at SeaTac airport in Seattle.

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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.