The 2018 Wild Alaska Salmon season continues to be extremely slow to get started this year.
This article and information is provided by: Seafood News
Last Saturday (June 1), the Copper River king and Sockeye Salmon commercial fishery was closed due to alarmingly low catch and escapement levels. The catch, prized by chefs, retailers, and consumers worldwide, was only 26,000 Sockeye and 7,000 King Salmon, a fraction of what was predicted by May 28, the last fishing day. Closing the fishery will give King and Sockeye Salmon unfettered access upriver to their spawning grounds. Less than half of the escapement expected by now has been recorded at the upriver Miles Lake sonar counting station. Cumulative escapement is only 67,000 Salmon, compared to the projected 143,000 Salmon.
ADF&G’s regional biologist Jeremy Botz said the early run is probably past, but said if the numbers warrant a later opener, he would consider it.
“The sonar counts are coming up now,” Botz said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we show higher numbers from in the coming days.
“The Copper River has so much diversity in its stocks,” Botz said. “We’ve got more than 100 stocks up there, which has contributed to the Copper being so reliable over the years,” Botz said.
If that is changing, processors who have interests in other parts of the state will make out much better than those with less diversification.
“We have a 16-week season, so three or four weeks out of the front end are being eliminated from our season,” noted Marty Weiser, chief development officer for Copper River Seafoods.
“It’s significant but it’s certainly different from other processors that are locally focused. Copper River is diversified across the state, so from an overall standpoint, is it going to hurt us? I don’t think so. We’ve expanded our operations in Bristol Bay this year,” he said.
“But right now our tenders are benched,” Weiser said.
“All our fisherman have now moved into Prince William Sound and of course it’s a little early, so there’s some overcrowding in the sound and not much yet in the way of fish. It’s devastating to the fishermen, and any processor to have a run failure like this.”
A total of 18,000 Sockeyes have been taken at Coghill in Prince William sound so far, and 36,000 Chum Salmon have been harvested. Salmon run uncertainty affects more than just the processors.
As Weiser noted, “Retailers spent a ton of money on promotions, customers were trying to have weddings, etc. and they thought they were serving Copper River Sockeye and now they have to switch,” he said. As to figuring out what may have caused the runs to return in such small numbers, Botz would be interested in doing early freshwater stock assessments for outmigrating sockeyes as well as additional research to what might be stressing Sockeye in the ocean. “Why are they not getting their forage food?” would be another question to ask, said Botz.
Weiser says he thinks the ocean has a bigger role to play in predicting Salmon runs with better accuracy.
“The reasons for the early run failure will consume everyone’s time this winter trying to figure out what’s happening,” said Weiser. “From what I’ve gathered from all the biologists, it’s clearly something going on in our oceans, not our rivers.”