The Copper River commercial sockeye fishery is likely to fall below forecast for the second year in a row. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed one of the fishery’s 12-hour openings last week due to low escapement and abysmal harvest levels.
That trend continued this week with a slow fishing period on Monday, and the department announced Wednesday that it’s closing the fishery on Thursday for the second week in a row.
“The harvest from Monday looks like it was around 19,000 sockeye and about 3,000 king salmon for a 12-hour period,” Fish and Game Biologist Jeremy Botz said.
Botz said that’s well below the 97,000 sockeye commercial gillnetters typically harvest in a fishing period at this point in the run. Fish and Game estimated roughly 940,000 sockeye would be available for the commercial harvest this season, but the chances of the run meeting that expectation are slim.
“We’re going to try to fish on as much as reasonable, but we’re going to have to start looking at the passage at the sonar to see whether we’re holding steady, gaining ground or still continuing to fall further behind,” Botz explained.
He said there still isn’t enough information to say how far below Fish and Game’s forecast the actual harvest may fall. Last year’s commercial harvest was estimated to be about 900,000 sockeye, but gillnetters took home just over half that. Commercial fishermen harvest about 1 million Copper River sockeye per year on average.
Fish and Game expects to open the fishery again on Monday.