Copper River drift gillnet fishery falls short of expectations

Adding to a long list of salmon fisheries that did not produce as expected in 2016, the Copper River drift gillnet fishery fell well short of expectations, in spite of above average time and effort.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game preliminary report, the notoriously dangerous Copper River Flats sockeye/king salmon fishery, which opened, as usual, to much fanfare on May 16, was expected to produce 21,000 chinook, 1.62 million sockeye and 201,000 coho salmon through the end of the season.

The Gulkana hatchery was expected to produce another 169,000 sockeye to the fishery.

Through the end of July, the traditional end of the sockeye/king salmon season, the Copper River District was open 96 hours more than the recent 10-year average, but the sockeye salmon harvest of 1.14 million fish came in 22 percent below the previous 10-year average.

Meanwhile the harvest of 11,600 chinook salmon was below the previous 10-year average of 17,200.

In addition to the lower number of sockeye, there was the lower-than-average sockeye size, which has been chronic throughout the state for the last two to three years.

The average sockeye caught in the district in 2016 weighed 5.3 pounds, the second smallest on record, according to ADF&G fisheries researchers in Cordova, and the number of wild sockeyes in the Copper River District Commercial Common Property Fishery was 968,000, or 85 percent of the most recent 10-year average.

While the CCPF harvest of 11,600 chinook salmon was below the previous 10-year average of 17,200, the news was better for coho salmon.

The season total of commercial harvest of coho salmon was 365,000 fish, almost double the previous 10-year average of 201,000 silvers.

Things went considerably better in the Bering River District, the eastern-most area near Kayak Island, which is the site of Georg Steller’s famous foray ashore as the first European to land on American soil as part of Vitus Bering’s expedition in 1741.

The preseason commercial harvest forecast for that area was 14,000 sockeyes and 46,000 cohos.

The commercial harvest for that district of 9,400 sockeye was 23 percent above the previous 10-year average harvest of 7,600 fish, and the coho commercial harvest of 81,400 silvers was 80 percent above the previous 10-year harvest average of 45,300 fish.

Commercial fishing effort in both sockeye and silver salmon fisheries was high due to productive fishing in that eastern area, according to ADF&G.

Cristy Fry can be reached at