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'Very strong run' of red salmon building in Copper River

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times
Courtesy Copper River Salmon

Salmon harvests in the Copper River District swelled to 1.3 million fish for the week ended June 29, with the state’s preliminary harvest report showing a red salmon catch well above average and a king salmon catch well below.

Statewide wild Alaska salmon harvests rose to 9.4 million fish, as harvests picked up speed in Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay, Southeast and Southwest Alaska, including the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak and Chignik.

This being a holiday week, supermarkets in the Anchorage and Mat-Su offered fresh wild Alaska sockeye salmon fillets at $8.99 a pound, down from prices normally fluctuating between $11.99 and $13.99.Fred Meyer stores had some fresh king salmon fillets at $12.99 a pound, and 10th and M Seafoods in Anchorage had whole Prince William Sound reds for $6.95 a pound.

“It’s not a record, but it is a very strong run,” said Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist in Cordova for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  The Copper River red salmon harvest of 1.3 million fish compares with a historical five-year cumulative harvest average of 782,107 sockeye for the same period, or about 66 percent higher. The king salmon harvest of some 11,000 fish to date is much less than the five-year cumulative harvest average of 17,107 fish, he said.

There has been much speculation on the weak run of king salmon, from fresh water environmental issues to ocean survival issues and the incidental catch of king salmon in other fisheries, but the cause has not yet been determined, Botz said..

As of June 29, there were an estimated 75 to 100 drift gillnet permit holders participating in the Copper River District fishery, and some 300 to 375 drift and 25 set gillnet permit holders participating in the Prince William Sound gillnet fisheries. Areas adjacent to both the Wally Noerenberg Hatchery and Main Bay Hatchery were closed to the common property fishery to achieve corporate escapement.

The cumulative harvest through June 27 for the Coghill and Eshamy districts was 135,389 and 597,746 sockeye salmon, respectively and 821,192 and 166,903 chum salmon, respectively.

State fisheries biologists said that the anticipated run entry for the Wally Noerenberg Hatchery through June 27 was 518,000 fish, and the anticipated run entry for Main Bay Hatchery through June 27 was 557,000 fish.

In Bristol Bay, the commercial fleet delivered an estimated 981,000 sockeyes from the Naknek-Kvichak district, plus another 275,000 reds from the Ugashik district, 128,000 reds from the Nushagak district and 17,000 reds in the Togiak district, for a total of nearly two million reds. The fleet also harvested some 35,000 chum salmon, 2,000 kings and fewer than 1,000 each of silver and pink salmon.

Kodiak fishermen boosted their harvest to 852,000 fish, including some 661,000 reds, 163,000 chum, 25,000 pink and 3,000 kings. At Chignik, the harvest stood at 737,000 reds, 45,000 chum, 20,000 pinks and about 1,000 Chinook salmon.

For Cook Inlet, the harvest rose to 122,000 sockeye, 2,000 kings and 2,000 chum salmon, while on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula, harvesters had 1.5 million reds, 343,000 chum, 203,000 pink and 7,000 king salmon.