Low prices, weak run hammer Copper River fishermen

Published: Jun. 9, 2020 at 4:51 PM AKDT
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Fishermen headed into the 2020 season knew it would be different, but in the weeks since the Copper River District opened on March 14, low prices and a weak run has dealt a one-two punch to fishermen.

“The 2020 gillnet season for the Copper River and Prince William Sound is definitely the worst one I’ve experienced so far,” Mike Mickelson, a Cordova based fisherman, said. “The managers just have us closed for the Copper River fishery because they’re worried about getting escapement, and we’re getting some fish up the river and they’re keeping a real close eye on the counter, but I think the commercial harvest could be over unless things start looking a lot different for the number of fish starting to go by the fish counters.”

As of Tuesday, the Department of Fish and Game’s in season harvest estimate for the Copper River drift gillnet fleet was 71,370 sockeye salmon and 5,751 Chinook. In 2019, the fishermen harvest 1.27 million sockeye and the 10-year average harvest is 990,000 fish.

“Basically this season we’ve had so little fishing time and there’s been so few fish, and our prices have been lower than usual due to the pandemic, and people are wondering how they’re going to pay their bills,” Mickelson said. “The Prince William Sound fishery it just kind of starting. It could still happen. The Copper River fishery seems pretty unlikely, but things can change really fast, and we still have silver season coming up, so it’s hard to say. We’re just going to have to wait and see.”

For fishermen like Mickelson who are dual permit holders, meaning they hold both a seine and drift gillnet permits, success this summer will take a strong run of pinks.

“If you have both operations, usually you can pay your bills. Either one will be good, or the other will be good. And sometimes if you’re lucky, they both will be good,” Mickelson said. “We’re definitely looking at lower prices, though, just across the board due to the pandemic.”

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