Second opener kings, sockeye garner record high prices

Fishing vessels near Cordova Harbor. (May 16, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Copper River wild salmon harvests are rising slowly, while prices to fishermen have taken a leap, reaching a record high $12.60 a pound for sockeyes and $19.60 a pound for Chinooks in the second opener.

It all started when Peter Pan Seafood upped its initial price per pound for reds and kings by 60 cents for the second opener. Copper River Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Ocean Beauty Seafoods quickly followed suit.

“Peter Pan used to have a solid fleet in the flats,” said John Hickman, the company’s vice president of operations. “We want people to know we are back.”

“It is the highest price I’ve seen in my career,” said veteran Cordova harvester John Renner. “With a small catch I think it is good for the fleet and generally bad for the market.” Renner’s concern, he said, is that, when the price hits a certain point, consumers may decide not to buy the fish.

“It’s a moderate run, much better than last year, but not at the level we need,” he said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists estimate that the 321 deliveries from the second 12-hour opener on Thursday, May 20, brought in 11,928 sockeye weighing on average 5.1 pounds, and 1,124 Chinook with an average weight of 13.41 pounds, plus 321 chum salmon averaging 6 pounds each.

The first opener on Monday, May 17 included an estimated 419 deliveries, including 6,159 red salmon averaging 5.15 pounds and 2,068 kings weighing in on average at 12.09 pounds, plus 184 chums averaging 6.67 pounds.

ADF&G has scheduled a third 12-hour drift gillnet fishing period to begin at 7 a.m. on Monday, May 24. Waters within the expanded Chinook salmon inside closure area are to be closed for this period.

During the commercial fishing season, subsistence harvest is allowed in the Copper River District concurrent in time and area with commercial fishing periods until the Copper River District is closed at the end of the season. Waters of the Copper River District, excluding the expanded Chinook salmon inside closure area are open to subsistence fishing from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. on all Saturdays through Oct. 31.