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Copper River sockeye run comes in low, but king return better than expected

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Gillnetters fishing the mouth of the Copper River for commercial kings are wrapping up their season. Forecasts this year were dismal, but the run was stronger than expected.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Jeremy Botz said about 4,000 chinook were initially allocated for gillnetters, but the in-season harvest over tripled that amount.

“Right from the get go, there seemed to be a higher abundance of Chinook salmon in the district and it held up throughout the run,” Botz said. “We fished a pretty conservative schedule and also had area restrictions in place. So we had high confidence we moved a bunch of fish into the river and it should be pretty good overall.”

The king run drops off about the third week of June. Commercial fishermen have harvested about 13,000 kings as of June 30. At the docks, kings are going for $6.75 per pound.

Sockeye numbers on the Copper River are coming in low this year, contrasting the record runs over the past five years. About 890,000 sockeye were expected to return, but the in-season forecast has dropped to 800,000. Current harvest totals are about half that amount.

“So right now for the Copper, we’re only up to about 435,000 in total sockeye salmon harvest,” Botz explained. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we come in a bit below where that’s projecting right now.”

On average, about 1 million sockeye return to the Copper River annually, but that number has crept up in recent years.

“What’s kind of interesting recently is that average has gone up because we had consecutive years, 2011 through 2015, where we were well above our historical average, runs that were in the top 10 overall in the last 100 years,” Botz noted. “The recent average is inflated.”

Sockeye prices started off high this year, but have dropped to about $2.50 per pound. Sockeye will continue to run until the end of July, and coho will start to show up in mid-August. ADF&G predicts about 200,000 will be available for that harvest.