Copper River sockeye run off to a really slow start

May 23, 2018

Sockeye.
Credit KBBI News

The sockeye run on the Copper River is off to an incredibly slow start. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened the fishery on May 17 for a 12-hour fishing period.

Gillnetters came home with roughly 1,900 sockeye and returned on Monday for another opening, but fishing still remained slow with only 3,400 fish winding up in nets.

Fish and Game biologist Jeremy Botz said those numbers are well under what the department expected.

“For that first period, we would have been expecting 38,000, 39,000 and the second period about 78,000 under normal average timing,” Botz explained.

Botz said king salmon are returning as expected, but he explains it’s still too early to tell whether the sockeye run will come in under forecast. Fish and Game anticipates about 950,000 sockeye will be available for commercial harvest this season. Botz adds that river and weather conditions also may be a factor for the season’s slow start.

“We’re definitely seeing a pretty late ice-out on the river, pretty low water levels, not a lot of fresh water going out, cold water temps out in the Gulf of Alaska that are definitely contributing to a later run timing or compressed run,” he said.

Botz said another opening is tentatively planned for Thursday, but he said the department may wait until Monday to re-open up the fishery.

“Too early to say whether it’s indicative of the run as a whole, but it’s definitely causing some concern about our early escapement components. So, we’re definitely taking that into strong consideration. We’ll be looking at it closely for our announcement on Wednesday,” Botz said.

Botz said Fish and Game will have a better idea if the run is just late or is likely to come in under forecast after the next fishing period.  

He said the department will announce whether or not it will open the fishery this week Wednesday at 2 p.m.