Copper River catch nears 200,000 fish

Botz: River numbers are looking good

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

After a challenging season start, the salmon are flowing at a rate that’s within the range for escapement in the delta, as the catch for the Copper River nears 200,000 fish.

“River numbers are looking good,” said Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist in Cordova for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Even the weather has, for the most part, been cooperating, Botz said.

Commercial harvesters made 276 deliveries on Monday, June 21, the longest day of the year, bringing processors an estimated 27,084 red, 675 chum, 216 pinks, 145 Chinook and 64 coho.

The seven overall 12-hour openers to date on the Copper River have resulted in an estimated 2,600 deliveries of 181,118 sockeye, 7,873 chum, 6,672 Chinook and 580 humpies.

Eshamy Main Bay’s drift gillnetters and setnetters meanwhile have made 1,158 deliveries, with a catch of 61,871 chum, 56,095 red and 212 kings, and the Coghill drift gillnetters have had 809 deliveries, with 57,723 chum, 5,991 coho and 260 kings. Prince William Sound purse seine fisheries in Montague and Southwestern Prince William Sound and the Bering River are so far off to a slower start.

Harvests are also opening up in Cook Inlet, the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak and Bristol Bay, boosting the 2021 preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest to 6.5 million fish, including 3.2 million sockeyes, 2.4 million pink, 888,000 chum 37,000 Chinook and 3,000 cohos.

Overall Alaska salmon harvests remain behind where they were at this point in 2020, and 2019 for odd year pink salmon, but the pace of the harvest has started to catch up in the past week, said Dan Lesh, a consultant at McKinley Research Group in Juneau, who produces the company’s weekly salmon fishery in-season report for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Lesh credits strong sockeye harvests in the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak regions. As of Saturday,

June 19, almost 5.4 million salmon had been caught during the season, 67% of which were caught in 2020 at this point, he said. A week earlier, we were at 40% of the prior year adjusted year-to-date harvest, he said.

More than 2.5 million sockeye have been caught so far, near the five-year average to date of 2.7 million, he said. The harvest has been particularly strong in the Alaska Peninsula region. Sockeye fishing, by historical standards, has remained slow in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, Lesh said.

Chinook fishing, meanwhile, is behind the five-year average to date, with about 15,000 Chinook salmon harvested, considerably less than the five-year average to date of 23,000. Peak Chinook harvests usually come in late June and early July. This year’s keta and pink salmon runs are also lagging in pace, but the peak harvest for these two species is more than a month away. The bulk of the coho runs do not usually arrive until mid-August, Lesh noted in his report.

Preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvests are posted online daily by ADF&G at