ADF&G approves third 12-hour Copper River opener

Bering River District also opens for 12-hour commercial drift gillnet fishing period

Cordova’s boat harbor is full Monday, May 23, 2022, a day when most boats are on the fishing grounds. This Monday, low previous catches and low numbers at the fish counter on the Copper River led to the closure of the fishing grounds that would have otherwise expected a 12 -hour opener and seen an empty harbor. Photo by David Little/for The Cordova Times

Even as the first harvests of wild caught Copper River salmon were being celebrated in Seattle and Anchorage, with just 30,360 fish landed in the first two openers, fishermen and processors alike were hoping for a better catch in the latest 12-hour opener on Thursday, May 26.

The celebrated first opener on May 16 brought delivery of 15,609 fish, including 12,737 sockeyes, 2,830 Chinook and 42 chum, and the second opener on May 19 saw deliveries of 14,724 fish, including 11,698 sockeyes, 2,670 Chinooks, 354 chum and two pink salmon. The projected harvest for that opener was 29,900 sockeyes.

A group of fishermen of Russian descent who harvest annually in the Copper River were upset that some buyers were waiting to announce a price to harvesters, but when 60° North they would pay $15 a pound for Chinooks and $7 a pound for sockeyes there was a 25-boat lineup to deliver there, said John Renner, a vice president of Cordova District Fishermen United.

“It’s pretty brutal right now,” Renner said. “A lot of people are very upset with the price.”

Cordova’s boat harbor is full Monday, May 23, 2022, a day when most boats are on the fishing grounds. This Monday, low previous catches and low numbers at the fish counter on the Copper River led to the closure of the fishing grounds that would have otherwise expected a 12 -hour opener and seen an empty harbor. Photo by David Little/for The Cordova Times

Still, he noted, state fisheries biologists in Cordova were forecasting a run of 60,000 sockeyes got the May 27 opener, and that would drop the overall price substantially.

Water temperatures remained cold and there was still a lot of ice on the river, prompting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to keep the fishery closed for what would have been the third opener on Monday, May 23. The next day ADF&G said the Copper River District would commence another 12-hour opener on Thursday, May 26, with waters within the expanded Chinook salmon inside closure area closed for the period.

During the commercial fishing season, subsistence harvests may occur in the Copper River District concurrent with commercial fishing periods up until the district closes at the end of the season.

ADF&G said the cumulative sonar count through May 23 was 670 fish, compared to the 33,614 fish projected by that date. Only the north bank sonar has been deployed so far this season, as shore ice and ice flows are preventing south bank sonar deployment, state biologists in Cordova said.

The Bering River District also opened for a 12-hour commercial drift gillnet fishing period on May 26.

State biologists said the intent of that opening was to target Copper River sockeyes traveling through the western portion of the Bering River District.

As overlap with the Bering River sockeye salmon run timing increases, the likelihood of future early season opening in the Bering River District will diminish, state biologists said. Additionally, future openings of the Bering River District will be contingent on accurate reporting of harvest from within this district, they said.

The next schedule salmon fisheries announcement was anticipated at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 28.

Demand for the celebrated Copper River fish remained high, even as prices at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle for whole fresh Copper River kings dropped from nearly $899.99 to $599.99 apiece. Pike Place also had fillets of fresh Copper River kings for $79.98 a pound and fillets of fresh Copper River sockeyes for $49.99 a pound.

Online retailer FishEx in Anchorage was offering fillets of what it labeled premium portions of Copper River kings for $114.95 a pound and premium portions of fillets of fresh Copper River reds for $79.95 a pound. FishEx was also offering 20-pound cases of Copper River king premium portions or $1,709.10, down from $1,899; and 20 pound cases of Copper River sockeye premium portions for $899, down from $999. Two other popular Anchorage seafood shops, 10th&M and New Sagaya, were still waiting to offer any Copper River salmon.

Still the arrival of the season’s first Copper River salmon was cause for celebration for Copper River Seafoods, with offices in Cordova and Anchorage.

On Saturday, May 21, Copper River Seafoods hosted an upscale tasting of Copper River sockeye salmon at the Anchorage Petroleum Club for the benefit of the Alaska Cancer Society, donating all the fresh Copper River fish for the competition between chefs from five of Anchorage’s best restaurants. Over 200 guests who purchased tickets to the event dined on elaborate creations of these chefs, raising several thousand dollars for the cancer society while enjoying several hours of seafood treats and beverages. The competitors included Latonia Ireland of Sullivan’s Steakhouse, Jack Amon of Marx Brothers, Cameron Richardson of the Crow’s Nest at the Hotel Captain Cook, Kevin Dushek of 49th State Brewing Co, and Alecia Coach of the Petroleum Club of Anchorage.

Guests at the event decided in a vote that Ireland’s “Drunken Salmon Tacos” were the tastiest of the lot, for which she was honored.

Ireland said her inspiration for the dish was the Jack Daniels whiskey sauce, a versatile sweet and spicy sauce with the warm flavor of Tennessee whiskey. You’d be surprised at how delicious a little whiskey can make your favorite sauce, she said. The winning dish was a combination of fresh Copper River salmon pineapple, onion, tomato, cilantro, lime, salt, pepper, tortillas, dried spiced Jack Daniel’s soy sauce and onions.