Copper River salmon stalled by rising water

Expectations were high but the catch was low for the first opening of the Chitina Subdistrict personal use dipnet fishery over the weekend.

The community of Chitina on the Copper River filled with fishermen whose hopes had been raised by reports of record runs of red salmon coming up the river.

"It was crowded," said Mark Somerville, Fish and Game's area management biologist for sport fish based in Glennallen. "Some of the largest crowds I've ever seen. But people didn't limit out."

The culprit was a sudden rise in water levels just as the period opened, probably due to snow melt.

"When the water comes up like that, almost a foot a day, it causes the fish to stop moving," said Somerville. "If it drops, then the fish will start moving again."

The good news is that the fish are there. As of Sunday, 557,536 salmon had been counted at Miles Lake near the mouth of the river, a record for that date. And, sooner or later, those fish will continue their upstream migration, regardless of water levels. "They can't stay put forever," Somerville said.

The river seemed stable on Monday, Somerville said. But that may be temporary. "It's raining like crazy right now," he said.

The current opening will run through Sunday. As in the first opening, fishermen will be allowed to catch 10 more fish than the usual limit, based on the large numbers counted at Miles Lake.

Anchorage Daily News /