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Copper River sockeye run picks up after a slow start

This year’s run started well below the state’s goal
Copper River salmon
Copper River salmon(KTUU)
Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 8:02 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Copper River sockeye salmon season was off to a rough start this year, with the sonar tracking well below anticipated numbers.

Jeremy Botz, a Cordova area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said a late breakup of the river along with cold water temperatures is what likely led to a late, compressed run.

“So that low water probably didn’t really draw fish into the mouth of the river like it might some years with higher flow rates early in the season. Those colder water temps really tend to slow down and delay migration up the river for salmon,” he said.

On May 31, 54,178 sockeye were counted at the Miles Lake sonar. That’s a far cry from the state’s end river goal on that date which is approximately 132,000 fish. Luckily, things have started to pick up recently.

“Over this last week, we started to see some elevated counts, and we’re actually starting to make up some ground and getting back much closer to that lower end of that anticipated end river objective,” Botz said.

In fact, things are now starting to look better than last year when the Copper River experienced one of the worst seasons they’ve had.

“This run is definitely — particularly now that we have these last few days in the mix — it’s definitely tracking as a stronger run than last year,” Botz said. “So yeah, that’s a great sign because last year we had to curtail the commercial fishery extensively, and upper river fisheries were curtailed, and we ended up missing the end river goal. So I think we’re (on) much better footing this year so far from what I can tell.”

As of Sunday’s count, there were 155,847 sockeye counted in the Copper River at Miles Lake. The Copper River District remains closed to commercial fishing according to the latest advisory announcement released by Fish and Game. If numbers continue on an upward trend, that will likely change, according to Botz.

“It’s looking very much like we’re progressing on a trend here that would likely support a fishery in the near future,” Botz said. “We’re pretty optimistic at this point.”

Fish and Game posts the latest sockeye counts for the Copper River on their website.

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