Seine vessels fish near Bligh Island during a 16-hour open period in late July 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

State fisheries biologists are forecasting a Copper River District run of 1.3 million sockeyes and 202,000 coho salmon this summer, with the sockeye forecast at 46% above the 10-year average of 893,000 fish.  

The first announcement for the Copper River District will be issued between May 1 and May 8, said state fishery biologists based in Cordova. 

Based on recent poor Chinook and sockeye salmon production, a conservative management is planned at the start of the season. For Chinook salmon conservation the inside closure area as defined in state statutes will be closed during early season fishing periods. The Copper River Chinook salmon total run forecast of 47,000 fish is 2% below the 10-year average of 48,000 kings. 

Beginning in early to mid-August, when coho salmon harvest becomes predominant, the Copper and Bering River districts will be managed for cohos, fisheries officials said. 

Run forecasts and harvest projections published on Tuesday by state fisheries officials predict an approximate harvest of 232.4 million salmon in 2024, with more than half of the harvest, or 154.9 million fish, comprised of pink salmon.  

While the 2023 pink salmon harvest was well distributed across Southeast, Central and Westward regions, Bristol Bay continues to be the largest sockeye salmon producing region in Alaska, the forecast report said. 

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The 2024 commercial salmon harvest forecast is 69 million pink salmon, 39.5 million sockeye salmon, 24.3 chum salmon and 2.6 million coho salmon. If realized, this forecast would add up to 135.7 million fish, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).  

The department is expecting a decrease in overall commercial salmon harvest this year, mostly due to a decrease in pink salmon harvests from 2023. Compared to 2023 commercial harvests, the projected 2024 commercial harvests are expected to be as follows: 85.8 million fewer pink salmon; 12.4 million fewer sockeye salmon, 15,000 more coho salmon and 1.6 million more chum salmon. 

ADF&G forecasters note that there is a great deal of uncertainty in forecasting pink salmon returns due to their fixed two-year life history and therefore limited information to serve as the basis for predictions, because of no siblings returning during prior years. As a result, pink salmon harvest forecasts are generally based on harvests from previous brood years. 

A notable exception is Southeast Alaska, where a joint ADF&G and NOAA survey and juvenile pink salmon outmigration index is the basis for predicting harvests the following year. In recent decades, Alaska-wide pink salmon returns have tended to be larger during odd years than during adjacent even years, although there is much regional variation to this trend. 

Except for the Southeast Alaska Chinook salmon fisheries, the South Peninsula June fisheries, and salmon fisheries in the Exclusive Economic one of Cook Inlet, Alaska salmon management will be based on in season estimates of salmon run strength, the state report said. Alaska fishery managers have a primary goal of maintaining spawning population sizes, not of reaching preseason harvest projections.  

The Alaska all-species salmon harvest for 2023 totaled about 232.4 million fish, about 43 million more fish than the preseason forecast of 189.4 million fish. The combined harvest included about 236,000 Chinook, 51.9 million sockeye, 2.6 million coho, 154.9 million pink, and 22.7 million chum salmon.

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