Cordova braces for 2021 Copper River opener

Spawning success of wild pink salmon remains an uncertainty

A fishing vessel enters Cordova Harbor. (May 14, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

State managers for Prince William Sound area commercial fisheries say they plan to issue the first announcement on the Copper River District drift gillnet between April 30-May 7.

Fishing effort, harvest and escapement trends on the Copper River Delta and at Miles Lake sonar station will inform department decisions on openers, biologists with the Cordova office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in an announcement on Wednesday, April 21.

The standard commercial fishing schedule is two evenly spaced fishing periods each week, with the first period beginning on Mondays at 7 a.m.

The 2021 commercial harvest forecast for the Copper River District is 652,000 sockeye, 218,000 Coho and 13,000 Chinook.

The detailed announcement reminded purse seine harvesters that there is considerable uncertainty over the spawning success of wild pink salmon returning to Prince William Sound in 2019 due to severe drought conditions that persisted through much of the time when pink salmon spawn, with lack of sufficient water in spawning streams and high water temperatures.

Based on ADF&G’s wild pink salmon forecast of 19;19 million fish, there is a potential harvestable surplus of 17.35 million wild humpies. Biologists plan to manage each district’s aerial index escapement goal for a cumulative spawning escapement goal of 1,121,000-2,555,000 humpies.

Biologists noted that this forecast does not integrate environmental indices or other indicators of spawning success and the 2021 prediction takes no account of the anomalous conditions observed during the 2019 parent year.

The 2021 chum salmon forecast is 2.66 million fish, including wild and hatchery stocks.

The majority, 2.15 million fish, are from Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. hatchery production, of which some 470,000 chum are forecasted to be available for commercial purse seine harvesters, with 150,000 fish returning to the Armin F. Koernig hatchery and 320,000 fish returning to the Port Chalmers remote release location. The wild chum forecast is for 508,000 fish.

The purse seine fishery in Prince William Sound is set to begin on May 31.

Individuals planning to subsistence fish for salmon in Prince William Sound may obtain permits online at www.adfg.alaska.gov/Store/ or in Cordova Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays. Permit holders are being encouraged to call the Cordova office at 907-424-3212 or report online at www.adfg.alaska.gov/Harvest/  with preliminary harvest reports to assist with in-season harvest tracking.