LIVE UPDATES: Chums running strong; sockeye lagging

Follow along to get the latest news on Alaska wild salmon season this year in one convenient round-up.

Friday, June 18, 11:00 am PST

Chums running strong; sockeye lagging

Through the first weeks of the 2018 salmon season, the pace of the sockeye harvest is lagging behind the YTD totals of 2017 while the chum (keta) harvest is higher, the McDowell Group said Friday in an update.

d40400984911379218480d1249c9c4eb Photo: McDowell Group

The total statewide sockeye harvest of 300,000 fish is 76 percent behind last year’s pace; chum harvests of 269,000 fish represents double last year's pace.

Alaska is anticipating a strong salmon harvest in 2018 for all species except kings. Pink salmon harvest of a forecasted 69.7 million fish in 2018 is nearly double the extremely slow 2016 season.

Forecasted 2018 sockeye harvest of about 51.6 million fish is slightly lower than 2017’s harvest, but higher than the historical average.

The forecasted 2018 harvest of 21.0 million chum is lower than the record-breaking 2017 season, but historically strong. An anticipated coho harvest of 4.9 million fish in 2018 is comparable to 2017’s harvest. The king salmon harvest of 218,000 fish in 2018 is expected to be among the lowest on record, and weaker than the difficult 2017 season.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2:43 pm PST

The Blob

Well, apparently there is a mass of water roaming the Pacific Ocean known as the 'Blob' that could be partly to blame for the Copper River's historically dismal salmon season.

That's according to a recent story by the Associated Press, where a University of Washington researcher (who also coined the 2013 phenomenon) said changing water temperatures could affect the salmon harvest in the Copper River.

ADF&G released more Copper River data Wednesday that showed the sonar count is the eighth lowest on record with 178,693 fish (salmon and king) swimming through the river, whereas a minimum of 276,897 fish were projected by this date.

Some distributors such as the Seattle Fish Company of New Mexico haven't even received the fish.

They said recently in their blog: "We are now three weeks into the Copper River salmon season but have not yet brought in any. Why? Because the fish are not there."

Meanwhile in Russia, whose wild salmon season kicked off June 1, scientists are forecasting a huge 492,000 metric ton catch, up nearly 40 percent from the previous year.

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Wednesday, June 6, 1:52 pm PST

Copper River sees one of the lowest harvests in 50 years

ADF&G reported today the cumulative commercial harvest so far this year is the second lowest harvest to date in the last 50 years. The cumulative sonar count through June 5 is 95,515 fish, whereas a minimum of 175,559 fish were projected by this date.

Since the season started in May, the Copper River has only been open for three commercial fishing periods.

For now the Copper River remains closed to commercial fishing, according to ADF&G.

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Tuesday, June 5, 9:15 am PST

50 ways to eat Copper River Salmon

With prices so high for Copper River salmon, an $85 (€73) ticket to taste several courses of the sought-after fish doesn't sound too bad right now.

The iconic Seattle restaurant Ivar's is devoting an entire night, and most of a menu, to it.

On June 8 Ivar's will present a multi-course Copper River salmon dinner menu with special pairings of Oregon Pinots from the Ponzi Vineyards.

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Monday, June 4, 5:35 am PST

Cruise line snaps up Copper River salmon

Cruise Line Holland America was among the first to get its hands on Copper River salmon for its vessel, the Eurodam.

“Every year, salmon lovers and foodies eagerly await the arrival of the prized Copper River king salmon, and we’re excited to give our guests the opportunity to enjoy a delicacy they might not have access to at home or never had the opportunity to try,” said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America.

“We’re dedicated to giving our guests an authentic experience reflecting the destinations we are visiting, and an important part of that is the local cuisine.”

Holland America’s culinary team created several dishes featuring Copper River king salmon:

  • Pan-fried with ponzu miso dressing, served with scallions, crispy garlic and toasted pine nuts. Seared with saffron beurre blanc creamed leeks, North Sea shrimp, hazelnut relish and micro greens.
  • Roasted with hazelnut brown butter, served with tarragon fennel confit, braised endives and ghoa cress.Baked with orange-dill gremolata, served with heirloom carrots, red beets, crispy kale and lemon butter.
  • Broiled with smoked lobster cream, served with brioche, arugula salad, porcini and shaved truffle.
  • Seared with dill-crusted coating with North Sea shrimp white wine butter sauce, served with saffron risotto, squid, clams and fennel.
  • And baked with lemon confit and red wine reduction, served with leek, cilantro, cayenne and collard greens.

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Sunday, June 3, 11:11 pm PST

Can't buy me Copper River salmon

Seriously, folks it's still very expensive for anyone who doesn't have some cash to burn.

Retailers are finally getting Copper River salmon, and the prices are still sky high for both king and sockeyes.

Click here to read the full story.

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Thursday, May 31, 1:00 pm PST

Sitting on the dock of Bristol Bay

Subsistence fishermen around Bristol Bay are beginning to see salmon, Alaska's KTOO Public Media reports.

Expectations are high this year. The 2018 Bristol Bay sockeye catch could reach 37.59 million fish, while the total run could be 51.28 million fish, according to forecasts by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG).

Alaska fishermen in general should expect to get paid well this season. The Cordova Times reports that the lower harvest forecasts and no backlog from last season in cold storages is making the salmon sought-after. And all of that paired with a devalued US dollar is making Alaska salmon "more appealing to foreign customers."

A 2017 survey of Bristol Bay processors showed a continue shift away from canned products, with large gains seen in the headed and gutted (H&G) frozen and fillet categories.

Opening day is set for tomorrow.

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Wednesday, May 30, 3:20 pm PST

Sockeye run seeing a pickup

Preliminary numbers are in from Jeremy Botz with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the 12-hour commercial fishing period on May 28. He told IntraFish harvests for the 12-hour period were 3,000 king and 20,000 sockeye salmon. In terms of sockeye salmon, that's a 417 percent increase from the previous Monday opener, when only 3,870 were caught.

Sockeyes are still however well below the projected harvest of 97,600 sockeye salmon for this period.

Sockeye prices have been high at retailers due to low run numbers. Copper River sockeye was spotted yesterday at US grocery chain QFC for $34.99 (€30).

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Tuesday, May 29, 3:20 pm PST

Living on a prayer (for more sockeyes)

"It’s an extremely weird year," Chris Garr, executive chef at Ivar's, told IntraFish Tuesday about his experience with this year's Copper River season so far.

Garr said sockeyes have been small and too expensive overall, so he has mostly purchased king salmon from Copper River vendors.

"I’m going to wait until there is a flood of sockeyes," he said. "I can’t spend $40 (€35) per pound for sockeye when we’re paying $48 ($42) per pound for kings."

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Tuesday, May 29, 11:00 am PST

Low salmon counts continue

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is continuing to report low salmon counts with just 5,685 counted swimming up the Copper River as of May 25. That's 24 percent below the count estimated for this time period, which was a minimum of 24,211 fish.

Jeremy Botz, regional manager for ADF&G in Cordova, told IntraFish Tuesday the run appears to be later-timed this year, and that it also appears to be smaller than last year.

"It hasn't ramped up to meet our anticipated harvest numbers for the period," he said.

US grocery chain Pavillions is promoting Copper River salmon in one of its California stores through May 29, but has not specified a price on it.

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Wednesday, May 23, 1:11 pm PST

Nudged up

Official numbers are in from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for Monday's Copper River salmon opening. They nudged up slightly during the 12-hour period to 1,440 kings and 3,870 sockeye salmon. The numbers still fall well below the projected harvest of 79,400 sockeye salmon for this period.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2:15 pm PST

Sockeye catch continues low streak

Preliminary catch numbers are in from Monday's Copper River salmon opening and they (still) aren't great. Harvests from the 12-hour period are 1,300 kings and 3,400 sockeye salmon, according to Jeremy Botz with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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Friday, May 18, 3:30 pm PST

Sockeye catch low, prices high

The catch numbers are in from Thursday's Copper River salmon opening and they aren't great.

Preliminary harvest estimates from the 12-hour period are 2,800 kings and 1,900 sockeye salmon harvested, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported Friday afternoon.

This compares to a projected harvest of 38,600 sockeye salmon for this period, verifying what fishermen and processors were reporting from the grounds. During the opening fishing period of 2017, fishermen landed 1,900 kings and 36,000 sockeye.

The light catch is resulting in sky-high prices for the the first 64,000 pounds of fish delivered into Seattle by Alaska Air Cargo.

Reports from Copper River are that grounds prices from Thursday's first opening are running in the $13 (€11) to $14 (€11.90) per pound range for kings and $9.50 (€8.1) to $10 (€8.5) a pound for sockeye.

Click here for more details.

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Friday, May 18, 12:00 pm PST

Photo Gallery: First Copper River salmon land in Seattle

The first 16,000 pounds of fresh Copper River salmon arrived in Seattle on an Alaska Airlines plane Friday morning.

Before the day is done, another 48,000 pounds are expected to land in the Emerald City.

Click here to see our photo gallery from the arrival in Seattle.

--Rachel Sapin

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Friday, May 18 7:00 am PST

First fish arrives in Seattle

The first Copper River salmon just arrived in Seattle, marking the official start of the Copper River feeding frenzy.

More than 16,000 pounds of fresh Copper River salmon arrived in Seattle on a fish-filled Alaska Airlines plane touching down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport shortly after 6:30 am Friday.

In total, Alaska Air Cargo has three more flights scheduled throughout the day to bring in an additional 48,000 pounds of salmon to market.

"Alaska Airlines plays a significant role in supporting the Alaska seafood industry, which is recognized worldwide for its sustainable fishing practices," said Jason Berry, managing director at Alaska Air Cargo. "Our Cargo employees are working around the clock to ensure we deliver the first catch of the coveted wild Copper River salmon to market, often within 24 hours of being pulled from the water."

Every year Alaska Air Cargo partners with the state of Alaska's three largest seafood processors, Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, and Copper River Seafoods to bring the coveted fish to Seattle and Anchorage, Alaska, where it will then be delivered to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Pacific Northwest, and across the country.

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Friday, May 18, 6:00 am PST

Buyers scramble to secure first Copper River shipments

Buyers eager to get their hands on Copper River salmon better be careful what they wish for: this year's prices have reached record levels.

Reports from Copper River from Thursday's first opening were that prices were running on average from $13 (€11) to $14 (€11.90) per pound range for kings and $9.50 (€8.10) to $10 (€8.50) a pound for sockeye, with some reports even higher than that.

Click here to read the full story.

--Rachel Sapin

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Friday, May 18, 5:19 am PST

Low sockeye numbers

While no official numbers are in from yesterday's Copper River opening, indications are that the sockeye catch during the opening will be below what was anticipated, Jeremy Botz, biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told IntraFish.

King catch should be near anticipated numbers.

--John Fiorillo

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Thursday, May 17, 1:50 pm PST

Why sockeye is the go-to fish for Ivar's

"The flavor of it is beautiful. It has that real wild taste to it, and it just cooks up so nice," Chris Garr, executive chef at Ivar's, told IntraFish. Garr said the Seattle area restaurant chain should be getting sockeye or king salmon by 4 or 5 pm Friday, depending on the catch.

He said Ivar's buys product from Pacific Seafood as well as Northern Fish Company and Ocean Beauty Seafood.

"What I’ve been telling my vendors is I’ll sell myself out to whomever has the best price," he said.

"The first weekend is usually pretty tough," he said. "Prices are extremely high. Last year, the king catch was extremely low. Literally the kings went up for auction. I went with all sockeyes last year."

He said the restaurant looks for fresh fish whenever possible.

--Rachel Sapin

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Thursday, May 17, 12:20 pm PST

The waiting is the hardest part

Inquiring buyers want to know...how much are those first prized Copper River sockeye going to set them back.

They'll be ridiculous, of course, but the prices quickly fall back down to earth within the first week. Here's a look at historical ex-vessel trends:

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Thursday, May 17, 10:40 am PST

Fisherman describes early fishing as slow

Bill Webber, owner of Paradigm Shift Seafoods, posted a video from his vessel fishing the opening of the Copper River season Thursday morning.

He described the early fishing as "grim," with the kings caught so far in the 10-pound range and sockeye in the 4-pound range.

Webber said he is waiting for flood tide to come in, which will hopefully bring more fish with it.

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Thursday, May 17, 10:15 am PST

Coho is king at Duke's Chowder House

Duke Moscrip, owner of iconic Seattle mini-chain Duke's Chowder House, told IntraFish he looks forward to the Copper River salmon season for the coho.

He said the way to get the best-tasting coho is to bleed, process and freeze the fish within 48 hours of catching them.

"We have coho all year round that is so incredible," he said. "A lot of people think frozen is not a good idea, they’re incorrect. If you do it the way we have it done, you can’t believe how good it is consistently."

He said the restaurant also vies for king salmon, but that 99 percent of the 150,000 pounds he buys from Copper River is coho because his customers love it, and it's more reliable.

"You can have it every day and it’s fresh tasting every day," he said.

--Rachel Sapin.

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Wednesday, May 16, 1:10 pm PST

Fishermen, Ocean Beauty, Trident and others
help buy sonar system to count Copper River fish

Commercial fishermen and processors in Alaska are partnering with the state’s fishery managers to purchase new sonar technology that could improve in-season escapement data in the Copper River.

The upgraded sonar equipment will help managers count the number of fish – particularly king salmon – returning to the Copper River. This season the sonar site will be operating a new sonar array as a pilot program.

During the 2017 field season, three Adaptive Resolution Imaging Sonars (ARIS), two high-frequency units and one low-frequency unit were operated at the Miles Lake site on the banks of the Copper River.

An initial assessment of the 2017 data found that ARIS echograms could be used in-season to estimate fish lengths, providing a basis for counting large king salmon.

“This season’s hardware updates will likely produce higher quality images that will allow us to measure fish lengths, and eventually differentiate between large Chinook salmon and smaller salmon," said Stacy Vega, a biologist for Copper River/Prince William Sound.

A similar ARIS arrangement successfully identifies king salmon in the Kenai River allowing for in-season counting. The counting of king salmon in the Copper River system is difficult due to the turbidity and velocity of the river.

The addition of the new sonar was made possible by a one-time collaboration between the state of Alaska and the seafood industry.

Members of the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association contributed $75,000 (€63,529) to the purchase of the ARIS. Cordova District Fishermen United, the fisherman’s advocacy organization for the Prince William Sound area, contributed $7,000 (€5,929) to the purchase from the gillnet division of tits membership. Copper River Seafoods, North Pacific, Ocean Beauty, Trident Seafoods each came to the purchase with $6,375 (€5,399), while Alaska Wild Seafood contributed $2,500 (€2,117).

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Wednesday, May 16, 5:30 am PST

Here we go ... Copper River!

We are now just hours from the official opening of the Alaska salmon season, with the kick off of the Copper River salmon fishery.

The weather experts are calling for rain and some wind, but not enough to delay the 7 a.m. start of the fishery on Thursday.

"We're planning on a regular start," Christa Hoover, executive director of the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association, told IntraFish on Tuesday.

Pre-season forecasts are calling for a Copper River harvest of 19,000 kings and 942,000 sockeye salmon. By comparison, the 2017 pre-season commercial harvest forecast for the Copper River District was 4,000 kings, 889,000 sockeye, and 207,000 coho salmon.

The final 2017 Copper River sockeye salmon harvest of 570,000 was 60 percent less than the previous 10-year harvest average of 1.43 million and 36 percent below forecast. The average sockeye salmon weight of 5.5 pounds was the third smallest on record.

And while it is way too early to determine where Alaska salmon prices will settle this season, fishermen in 2017 were paid an average of $1.13 (€0.96) per pound for sockeye

Fishermen received an average of $5.86 (€5) for kings, $1.19 (€1) for coho, $0.32 (€0.27) for pinks and chum salmon averaged $0.66 (€0.56) a pound.

The total value of the 2017 salmon fishery was nearly $680 million (€577.4 million) for Alaska's fishermen, a nearly 67 percent increase over 2016.

The 2018 total statewide Alaska salmon commercial harvest projection of 147.3 million fish, which includes an expected 99,000 king salmon in areas outside Southeast Alaska, 51.6 million sockeye, 4.9 million coho, 69.7 million pink, and 21 million chum salmon.

The projected pink salmon harvest is about 72 million fewer than harvested in 2017; the sockeye salmon harvest is expected to be about 2 million fewer than were harvested in 2017; the coho salmon harvest is expected to be about 301,000 fewer than were harvested in 2017; and the chum salmon harvest is expected to be about 4 million fewer than were harvested in 2017.

--John Fiorillo

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Monday, April 16, 2:45 pm PST

Bristol Bay opening day set for June 1

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) said Thursday the commercial salmon season in Bristol Bay will open June 1.

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Friday, April 13, 7:10 am PST

US West Coast king salmon quota cut by more than half

This week the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted ocean salmon season recommendations for commercial fishermen along most of the US West Coast that include significantly reduced king salmon quotas.

Read more here.

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Wednesday, April 4, 3:30 pm PST

New study shows economic toll of closing US West Coast salmon fisheries

A closure last year of the commercial ocean salmon troll fishery off the US West Coast is estimated to have cost $5.8 million (€4.7 million) to $8.9 million (€7.3 million) in lost income for fishermen, with the loss of 200 to 330 jobs, according to a new model that determines the cost of fisheries closures based on the choices fishermen make.

Read more here.

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Tuesday, March 27, 10 am PST

Alaska salmon harvest forecast down 34% for 2018

The Alaska 2018 salmon harvest is projected at 149 million fish, down 34 percent from last year’s 226 million due to a projected shortfall of pink salmon returns.

Read more here.

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Saturday, March 12, 8 am PST

US frozen pink salmon exports start off year with a bang

The United States exported 8,412 metric tons of salmon worth $42.7 million (€34.7 million) through January – up 16.7 percent in volume and 31 percent in value from this time last year.

Read more here.

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Tuesday, February 6, 8:55 am PST

Russian researchers raise salmon harvest outlook on record pink projections

Russian fishery researchers are forecasting a huge 2018 wild salmon season in the Far East, with a projected 492,000 metric-ton catch on record pink salmon runs.

The catch would be 12.3 percent up from the 2016 level, and up 39 percent compared with the previous year's harvest.

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Tuesday, January 23, 12:05 pm PST

ADF&G forecasts average salmon runs in Prince William Sound

Salmon runs in Prince William Sound are predicted to be average or below average in 2018.

Read more here.

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December 6, 12 pm PST

University predicts smaller 2018 Bristol Bay salmon run

The University of Washington Alaska Salmon Program predicted a total Bristol Bay return of 47.6 million salmon for 2018, 7 percent less than the 51.3 million prediction from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

Read more about this forecast here.

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November 16, 7 am PST

Bristol Bay salmon forecast calls for another big harvest

The 2018 Bristol Bay sockeye catch could reach 37.59 million fish, while the total run could be 51.28 million fish, according to a new forecast released Wednesday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG).

The total run if it reaches 51.28 million fish would be 18 percent greater than the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay runs (42.71 million) and 41 percent greater than the long-term mean of 33.78 million fish.

Check out our live updates blog of last year's Alaska salmon season

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