CORDOVA, Alaska — It’s official. Alaska’s Copper River commercial salmon season will begin on Monday, May 16th, when the region’s commercial fishermen will be allowed to set their nets for a twelve-hour opener to harvest the revered king and sockeye salmon from the icy glacial fed waters of the Copper River Delta.
Sustainably harvested according to strict guidelines set by the State of Alaska, Copper River wild salmon—king, sockeye, and coho—are renowned worldwide for good reason. High in protein and naturally rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, Copper River salmon return to the region’s massive Delta each year from May to September, making the journey up the steep glacial fed waters. In anticipation of this arduous migration, these salmon naturally build reserves which fuel their journey and make them deliciously rich and desirable to cook. The small Copper River fleet is made up of independent fishermen who operate small 32’ boats, carefully catching and bleeding each fish by hand, ensuring the highest quality wild salmon is sent to retailers in a timely fashion.
The fishery, which has a long legacy of providing superior wild salmon to restaurants and supermarkets is monitored and managed by biologists at Alaska Department of Fish and Game, using sonar counts, weir passage, aerial escapement surveys, and fishery performance data, to determine escapements and allowable catch. The 2022 commercial harvest forecast for the Copper River District is expected to be below average, so biologists expect a “conservative management approach” at the start of the season.
As the season progresses and more king and sockeye salmon escape up the river to spawn, biologists will adjust commercial openings guided by the state’s regulatory management framework, at the heart of which is the “sustained yield principle.” Overall, this type of management has, as mandated in the Alaska State Constitution since 1959, played a pivotal role in maintaining the fishery while balancing the needs of the environment and fishermen, as well as the marketplace.
According to Jeremy Botz, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Gillnet Management Area Biologist, “The excitement in town regarding the start of the fishery is palpable right now, always a wonderful time to be on the ground preparing for another season. A tried and true management approach will be used again this year—conservative management measures are planned early in the season based on the below average forecasts, and, as the season progresses, management will be adapted quickly based on in season indices of run strength to balance fishing opportunity and escapement needs. The commercial fishery will be an important means of evaluating the strength of the king and sockeye salmon runs.”
Executive Director Christa Hoover says, “Here at Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association we are excited to see our small boat fishermen preparing for the season ahead. As they harvest these special, wild, nutrient rich fish from our local Alaska waters, we take pride in the fact that our fishery remains sustainable and viable, which considering the global supply issues at hand, is more important than ever.”
Copper River king, sockeye and coho will be available, fresh and frozen, at markets throughout Alaska, Hawaii, and the Lower 48. To find Copper River salmon in your area, check out the Association’s Fish Finder, ask for it by name at local seafood retailers, or order it directly from fishermen and suppliers.