Copper River commercial harvest nears 313,000 fish

Other PWS fishing districts contributing to region’s overall catch

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

Seven commercial openers on the Copper River have landed harvesters nearly 313,000 salmon to date, and given the demand for Copper River salmon, retail prices are holding, with shoppers reminded that the season is a short one and to buy now.

As of Wednesday, June 15, the online retailer FishEx in Anchorage was still charging $59.95 a pound for fresh “premium” fillets of Copper River reds. At Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, the same fish were selling at $29.99 a pound and 10th& M Seafoods in Anchorage was offering them for $13.95 a pound.

Tito Marquez of 10th& M Seafoods in Anchorage shows off fresh headed and gutter Copper River sockeye salmon delivered from Cordova and ready to fillet at the company’s facilities in Anchorage. Photo by Margaret Bauman for The Cordova Times

Salmon harvest numbers are already starting to trickle in from elsewhere in the state, and dozens of fishermen are headed for or already in Bristol Bay for what is expected to be a very substantial harvest of sockeye salmon, said Sam Friedman, a research analyst with McKinley Research Group LLC in Anchorage, formerly the McDowell Group.

Harvesters in the Copper River fishery made 177 deliveries of a total of 28,303 salmon during the seventh opener, including 27,322 reds, 595 chum and 386 kings, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists said of the preliminary count. Since the season began on May 16 there have been 2,551 deliveries of a total of 312,882 fish, including 294,756 sockeyes, 10,058 Chinooks, 8,063 chum, three coho and two pink salmon, the ADF&G report said.

The overall Prince William Sound harvest to date includes 4,458 deliveries of 363,510 sockeyes, 262,216 chum, 10,793 Chinook, 14 humpies and five coho salmon, mostly from Copper River drift gillnetters. The Coghill district gillnetters had the second highest harvest to date with 183,970 chum, 7,949 sockeyes and 267 Chinook salmon, and Eshamy Main Bay drift and set netters have brought in 54,080 red and 25,290 chum salmon

Fishing is also underway in the Bering River, Eshamy Main Bay Prince William Sound Southwestern and Montague districts.

While salmon harvest totals are below year-to-date figures, volumes are usually so low at this stage of the season that it is much too early to draw any conclusions about the overall strength of runs, Friedman said.

In Prince William Sound, the harvest of 288,000 sockeyes through Saturday, June 11, mostly from the Copper River District, is up dramatically from the year-to-date harvests of 2020 and 2021, but still below the five-year average, he said. The seafood trade press reports higher volumes of Copper River sockeye this year is contributing to declines I prices from particularly high values reported before the season, he said. Fishing has been slower this year in the southern Alaska Peninsula, a region that has been an early-season hotspot in recent years. Harvesters there have delivered some 948,000 fish to processors, mostly sockeye salmon, and Kodiak commercial harvesters so far have brought in some 66,000 sockeyes, the ADF&G report said.

ADF&G’s preseason forecast predicted a harvest of 160.6 million salmon. These projections call for an especially large sockeye salmon harvest of 74 million fish, mostly in Bristol Bay, an above average pink salmon harvest for an even numbered year, and below average harvests of keta, coho and Chinook salmon, Friedman said.

These weekly reports are produced by McKinley Research Group on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

ADF&G also provides 2022 preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest reports, known as the Blue Sheet, at adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyfisherysalmon.bluesheet.