No commercial opener for Copper River salmon fishery

A bright spot in Copper River openings for the salmon fishermen have been some king salmon, like this 32-pounder harvested by Bill Webber of Cordova, owner of Paradigm Seafoods LLC, during the third commercial opener. (Photo courtesy of Bill Webber)

Faced with a sonar count that is the ninth lowest on record since 1978, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the Copper River district of Prince William Sound would remain closed to commercial fishing.

The midday announcement on June 6 assured that the district would open to subsistence fishing on June 7.

Cumulative commercial harvest to date is the second lowest harvest in the last 50 years, ADF&G said in an announcement from its Cordova office.

The announcement said that the Miles Lake sonar passage has declined since June 4 and cumulative sonar count through June 5 was 95,515 fish, whereas a minimum of 175,559 fish were projected by that date.

Harvesters were advised, however, that the commercial fishery might open on short notice, should indices of sockeye salmon abundance support such a fishery.  A minimum of 17 hours advance notice of a fishery opening is anticipated, the agency said.

With the commercial fishery shut down for a second week in a row, retail prices for the popular Copper River kings and sockeyes remained high where the fish were available.

Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle was offering whole Copper River kings for $49.99 a pound, king fillets for $69.99 a pound, whole sockeyes at $156.96 per fish and sockeye fillets for $49.99 a pound.

In Anchorage 10th & M Seafoods had Copper River sockeye fillets for $33.95 a pound. Carrs Safeway stores were offering whole Copper River sockeyes at $35.99 a pound and said sales were slow. Fred Meyer stores priced whole Copper River sockeyes at $29.99 a pound and fillets at $39.99 a pound for fish they said averaged 2-3 pounds.

The scarcity of the Copper River kings and sockeyes is putting a big hurt on the Cordova community, said veteran harvester and processor Bill Webber.

“I think we are 50 percent down on in-river passage rates.  Only half the fish they were expecting to go by the sonar by this given date (have shown up).  It might take one to two more weeks to get adequate numbers past the sonar to get the department to open up another fishing period,” Webber said. “The last time this happened was around 2010.”

As a direct market fisherman,” when we finally got opened up again, other regions in the state were putting fish into the marketplace, and they (buyers) were going somewhere else to get fish,” he said.

“It hurts,” said Webber. We highly value our markets and I want to do the best I can to keep them. The next year I had them all back.”

Salmon fisheries in officially opened on June 1 in one area of Lower Cook Inlet and on June 4 in some areas of Bristol Bay, with no preliminary deliveries reported to date by ADF&G.