Astoria Fisheries Auction

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Copper River Fishery Faces Escapement Challenges

With the opening of Alaska’s famed Copper River sockeye salmon fishery coming up in three weeks, commercial fishermen are trying to figure out ways to fish on the reds while assuring that escapement goals on the kings are met.

Harvesters with Cordova District Fishermen United met this week to discuss the issue with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and another session is slated for April 28.

“While the commercial harvests of sockeyes has been good over the past five years, the escapement goals upriver for kings were not met in 2015 or 2016,” says Jeremy Botz, area management biologist in Cordova for ADF&G. This year, with a forecast of a weak run of some 29,000 kings to the Copper River district, the allowable commercial harvest has been set at 4,000 Chinook, and the minimum threshold escapement goal for the kings is 24,000 fish. That is the preseason plan, based on the forecast. While the run could turn out to be stronger or weaker, state fisheries biologists won’t have enough information to assess the strength of the king run until the second week of the salmon fishery, which is expected to open May 15 or May 18.

Meanwhile ADF&G plans to substantially expand the inside closure area to the eastern end of the district to help assure that kings migrating through with the sockeyes are included in the escapement.

ADF&G is anticipating the possibility of the lowest Chinook harvest in that district since statehood. Management actions anticipated are above and beyond anything they’ve done before, to assure the required escapement of kings this year.

Jerry McCune, president of CDFU and a veteran commercial harvester from Cordova, said that the fleet will do its part to assure that the king salmon escapement is met, but he hopes that won’t mean losing the chance to harvest most of the sockeyes. McCune also expressed concern for the safety of smaller fishing vessels outside of the barrier islands in the gulf, where there is little protection from stormy weather.

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