Every spring, there’s a lot of anticipation about the upcoming salmon run, the Prince William Sound and Copper River Salmon forecast, and how the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will manage the fishery. Cordova is busy with more and more people coming to town for the fishing season, there’s a lot of conversation around town speculating what the fishing season will bring and the duration of the openers. More people in town, means more boats in the harbor, more trucks parked along Main Street, more boat engines revving and more people hypothesizing about the fishing season. Never a group to lack opinions, Alaska commercial fishermen weigh in on the upcoming season before the first Copper River opener on May 16.
Bob Martinson, 61, has been fishing since when he was 10 years old, and he’s not thrilled with this year’s ADF&G predictions.
“Sounds scary,” he said. “It’s not a very good forecast, I hope they’re wrong. I hope we get a good price and an opportunity to fish.”
According to ADFG’s news releases, they use 54 years (1965-2018) of harvest, escapement and age composition data available for this analysis. They will manage the fishery based on those variables. This year, the numbers predict a lower count for kings and sockeyes than last year, and some fishermen expressed anxiety about those fish runs, but there is optimism for the season as a whole, with the numbers of pinks and chums predicted to be strong.
“Optimistic? I have to be. I’m here. You have to give it a shot,” Martinson said with a smirk. Martinson isn’t very enthusiastic.
“People don’t have a lot of faith in the predictions,” said Darin Gilman, 27. “I think there’s optimism because last year was so bad. Not a lot of excitement going into this season. I think last year took the wind out of everybody’s sails but I kind of like that because I think people won’t be as competitive.”
Maybe it’s that lack of excitement that leads some people to believe there’s more procrastination in the air than previous years. Many local businesses see patterns each year and hear a lot of comments and rumors that circulate town about the upcoming season. Carlos Comparan, a manager at LFS, a commercial fishing gear and supply store, thinks this year people are a little behind schedule.
“Seems like people are waiting longer to get to town and get their boats in order … and that’s been the general impression from everyone I’ve talked to,” he said. “It seems like people are buying smaller mesh gear, and asking for deep nets a lot earlier, ’cause last year the deep nets season opened up like 10 days early, so they were caught unaware.”
That sentiment was reiterated by Jim Smith, owner of Eyak Web Works.
“Everybody’s chasing last year’s fish,” he said.
Any shortcomings that fishermen had last season — like not having their deep gear ready on time — they are eager to correct for this year. Business is good leading up to the first opener, Smith said.
“I’m slammed with nets,” he said.
As for first opener rituals, everyone does their own thing. Some people sell all their fish, some keep salmon for themselves. Some opt to kiss the fish.
“I’m not a fish kisser … but some of my friends are,” Martinson said.
Matt Honkola, 33, doesn’t always kiss his fish, but he brings home the smallest king from his first opener.
“It’s the spoils, you have to … it wouldn’t feel right if you didn’t,” he said. Honkola has fished since he was 12 years old. He’s anxious because of last year’s management, but overall, he’s hopeful.
“You have to appreciate it,” he said. “I am so fortunate to be part of this.”
Gilman sells all his fish from the first opener.
“I let go of my first red every year… if it’s alive obviously,” he said.
Martinson is just relieved his season is already off to a better start than last year.
“Everything started right up,” he said, referring to his engine. “Last year I blew it up when I turned the key.”