Wednesday 1:22 pm PST
Sockeyes soar in latest fish count, but season remains on shaky ground
ADF&G has not announced another opener, but said it anticipates the next one being Monday, June 1. The catch reported from the May 25 opener was a meager 1,470 kings. The news for sockeye was much better, with 33,750 fish harvested.
That amount for sockeye, while seven times the amount caught in the second fishing period, is only a little more than half of what the state agency projected would be 60,050 sockeye salmon harvested by this time. ADF&G reported there were 448 deliveries from the Monday opener, which should provide some relief to weary buyers.
Unfortunately, the run will not provide enough supply to relieve high prices for sockeye, with US retailers and restaurants still asking for around $30.00 (€27.37) to $40.00 (€36.50) per pound for the salmon.
The Alaska state agency, which operates sonar to gauge the strength of Copper River sockeye runs, is seeing an uptick in its count of salmon, ADF&G's Jeremy Botz told IntraFish.
"But harvest numbers were well below anticipated, so we decided to hold off on a Thursday opener," he said.
The agency's cumulative sonar count through Tuesday was 26,991 fish, only 39 percent of the fish ADF&G projected would be counted by this date.
Tuesday 9:52 pm PST
Climate change to blame?
"We had record warm air temperatures last year in the interior of Alaska and that led to glacial melt that was unprecedented," said one researcher who is studying Copper River salmon migration patterns. That's not the only environmental concern that could change the future of the run.
Tuesday 3:50 pm PST
Brighter days may be ahead
For Thea Thomas, who has been commercially fishing in Cordova for 35 years, Monday proved a better day than previous openers for catching sockeye, which she sells to Trident Seafoods for distribution.
She noted, so far, sockeye have gone for about half the price they fetched last year, largely because foodservice around the United States remains slow.
"We’re all just really hopeful, as restrictions are lifted down south, and some restaurants will open up, the market for our fish expands a bit," she told IntraFish.
Tuesday 8:26 am PST
Here come the sockeye
Monday's opener was a little better than previous ones, according to eager retailers. Mac Paranto, the sustainability manager and buyer with Colorado-based Seattle Fish, told IntraFish he finally secured some Copper River sockeye for the Rocky Mountain Whole Foods region for between $16.00 (€14.68) and $17.00 (€15.60) per pound.
QFC's Adam Branin told IntraFish while fishing was much better than the previous openers, the catch has shifted to an abundance of sockeye with very few kings.
"Costs are still high, same as before, so we expect no retail changes," he said.
One Cordova-based fishermen said his haul was so good Monday he did not want to publicly share the details, but that the fish he caught were mostly sockeye.
"A cold spring, weak tides and frozen low water movement on river seems to have caused a slower start to the fishery," the source said, but added the fish were "nice-sized and beautiful."
Copper River Fisherman Bill Webber posted happy news Monday when he filmed icing some of his 100-plus catch from the fishing day on Facebook.
Tuesday 6:00 am PST
More coronavirus cases
The number of COVID-19 infections among out-of-state workers in Alaska rose again over the holiday weekend, with two more employees testing positive.
With the Alaska's largest fishery in Bristol Bay set to open in less than a month, the seafood community and nearby residents remain anxious.
The cases come days after a Peter Pan Seafoods worker in Valdez tested positive for the coronavirus. It was that city's first case.
Friday 12:28 pm PST
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) officials announced there will be a third opener for Copper River fishermen on Monday, May 25. Preliminary harvest estimates from the 12-hour period that previously occured was 1,700 chinook and 4,550 sockeye salmon, with 411 deliveries reported. The sockeye salmon harvest is at a dismal 16 percent of what was initially estimated, according to ADFG.
"The sockeye salmon harvest in the first two periods was well below anticipated," Jeremy Botz, an area management biologist with ADFG, told IntraFish. "It was a cause for some concern, which is why we did not have an opener on Thursday."
He said the May 25 opener should provide a better idea of how the fishing season will proceed.
Friday 12:28 pm PST
Pricey and scarce
Despite the disappointing fishing season so far, Eater Seattle reports several restaurants and spots around the Washington state city are at least getting in fish. It remains pricey though.
Wednesday 2:47 pm PST
What's holding up Copper River salmon this year?
That is the question researchers, commercial fishermen and eager buyers and consumers are all asking right now with severely poor fishing reported for the season's first two openers.
Researchers at Prince William Sound Science Center say fish size and other factors such as energy reserves (fat), pathogens and other physiological stress factors could be impacting the salmon from returning to spawning grounds.
Longtime fisherman Bill Webber posted recently on his blog about this year's fishing season: "I cannot remember a season startup that has started this slow with sockeye run entry back into the delta."
Tuesday 2:15 pm PST
No salmon means stubborn prices
Don't expect more Copper River salmon in retail stores anytime soon. Adam Branin with QFC told IntraFish sky-high retail prices are not budging because of the weak early-season harvest.
The preliminary harvest estimate from the 12-hour period that occurred on Monday is 1,700 Chinook and 4,550 sockeye salmon with 411 deliveries reported. This compares to a projected harvest of 28,590 sockeye salmon for this period.
The next commercial opening for Copper River is expected to be Monday, May 25, said the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Monday 2:52 pm PST
It's 'scary slow'
Longtime Cordova fishermen Bill Webber said fishing on Monday remains "scary slow."
He noted as of 2 p.m. Alaska time, his crew had five fish onboard with a few hours left in the fishing period.
"It's looking pretty slow. Boats are running east, west, south searching," he said. "I've never seen a season start up this slow in my 53 years."
Monday 10:46 am PST
Monday 9:53 am PSTHospital workers enjoy salmon
More than 200 Seattle hospital workers enjoyed the salmon over the past weekend. Washington state was the first in the country to report COVID-19 cases, and continues to impose some of the stricter social distancing measures in the United States.
Friday 3:11 pm PST
Dismal reports from first opener
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) reported Friday the preliminary harvest estimate from the first opener was way down from what the state agency anticipated. It reported a harvest of 1,650 kings and 1,500 sockeye salmon with 335 deliveries reported. This compares to a projected harvest of 12,400 sockeye for this period, which means only 12 percent of that initial estimated was harvested.
The next opener is set for Monday, May 18 at 7 am PST.
Friday 2:40 pm PST
US retailers receive first batch
Copper River salmon made its way to Seattle area QFCS where sockeye are selling for $34.99 (€32.39) per pound and kings for $44.99 (€41.64) per pound. This is slightly less than last year, when local news outlets reported the first king salmons available at $60.00 (€55.54) per pound.
Friday 2:00 pm PST
'One of the slowest openers I've ever seen'
Several Alaska fishermen confirmed with IntraFish this week's Copper River opener was the slowest they have seen in their long tenures in Cordova.
"It was one of the slowest openers I've ever seen," said Peter Hoepner, a Cordova-area fishermen for 35 years. Hoepner supplies salmon to major companies such as Trident.
"Usually the first opener is slow, you never know what's going to come year to year."
John Weise, co-owner of Sixty North Seafoods, noted cold weather and ice are keeping water levels low.
"When the water level starts to rise, that's when the fish charge the river," he said. "If in two weeks, we're sitting this spot, then there will be something to worry about."
Weise and others are still expecting the state of Alaska to announce the next opener for next Monday.
Friday 12:06 pm PST
Retailers awaiting fish
Alaska Airlines announced Friday the famed Copper River salmon will be available at QFC, Whole Foods, Haggen's, Town & Country, Thriftway and Metropolitan Market.
But Alaska Airlines has repurposed several of its aircraft to accommodate essential air cargo in recent weeks, and the changes are slowing some shipments, Adam Branin, a meat and seafood merchandiser with Kroger-owned QFC, told IntraFish.
"I should have fish to the Bellevue (Washington) QFC in about an hour," he said, noting it should be in about 33 Seattle-area stores by the end of today.
Mac Paranto, the sustainability manager and buyer with Colorado-based Seattle Fish, said the Rocky Mountain region has yet to get its hands on any of the prized salmon.
Paranto, who works with major retailers such as Kroger and Whole Foods, said he is so far unable to fill orders, even while working with eight different vendors.
He is also seeing higher prices for the fish.
"But that’s to be expected with low catch rates and a slow start," he added.
One unique aspect to this year's season is the patience retailers and chefs are showing in waiting for the salmon.
"When it’s not a pandemic you have chefs who are more demanding," he said.
Buyers such as Matthew Davis with Santa Monica Seafood also noted a limited catch so far, with an abundance of king salmon and very few sockeye.
He added spot pricing in Seattle for sockeye has been in the $10.00-$14.00 (€9.26-€12.96) range, and in the $18.00-$20.00 (€16.66- €18.51) range for kings.
Friday 9:52 am PST
The salmon have arrived
Trident Seafoods CEO Joe Bundrant is masked up and live streaming the arrival of the year's first Copper River salmon.
"It's very different, but we are proud to support the first responders and Tom Douglas for helping to support Food Lifeline and the Seattle restaurant industry," Bundrant told IntraFish of the experience. "Thanks to Ocean Beauty for matching our donation of fish for the cause, to Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association for their support, and to Alaska Airlines for holding this event and continuing to provide excellent service."
Kiro 7 News Reporter Rob Munoz tweeted pilot Brent Carricaburu who delivered the fish, is also an Alaska fisherman.
King 5 Reporter Kierra Elfalan tweeted 9,000 pounds of Copper River salmon will soon arrived at the airport to feed more than 200 hospital workers.
Friday 8:50 am PST
The first batch of Copper River salmon is on its way to the Seattle airport where Trident and Ocean Beauty are working with Chef Tom Douglass to prepare meals for area hospital workers.
Thursday, 11.15pm PST
Low harvests predicted for sockeye
All indicators point to predicted low harvests, at least for sockeye, as reports from the grounds are that the first 12-hour fishing period that ended Thursday evening was slow.
"I anticipate the first period harvest will be well below average for sockeye, but I don't have a clear sense yet on Chinook salmon," Alaska Department of Fish & Game Area Management Biologist Jeremy Botz told IntraFish.
Thursday, 7:29pm PST
First price reports are in
Copper River Seafoods has apparently announced ex-vessel prices of $3 per pound for sockeye and $6 (€5.55) for kings, Paradigm Seafood's Bill Webber told IntraFish after hearing it over his VHF radio.
This is a marked drop from last year's opening prices of $10 (€9.25) for sockeye and $14 (€12.95) for kings, despite predictions of a poorer catch.
"It was an extremely slow fishing period today. I have made a total of eight sets all day and have not caught one fish yet," said Webber.
Webber, who has been in the fishing industry for 53 years, said judging by environmental conditions, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had started fishing too early, with low water, heavy ice and low temperatures contributing to slow migration into the Copper River district.
"Personally I thought the department should have waited till next Monday for our season start up but here we are, straining water," he said.
Thursday, 7:09pm PST
Multiple sources are saying fishing is slow so far, "but that’s fairly typical for the opener," Christa Hoover at the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association told IntraFish. "It’s early. The river was still frozen and cold no more than a 10 days ago. It’ll pick up."
Thursday, 7:06pm PST
Prices looking to be down on last year
"I got an update a few hours ago and fishing was going very slow," Adam Branin, a meat and seafood merchandiser with Kroger-owned QFC told IntraFish, adding that at the time there was still four hours left to fish, so too early to make predictions.
Branin hopes to have first fish to its flagship store in Bellevue, near Seattle, tomorrow morning.
While he wouldn't give current planned retail pricing, as it is subject to change, he said that he planned on it being lower than last year on opener fish. "With foodservice out of the picture, we are hearing costs will be lower, but we'll see," he said.
Thursday, 6:55 am PST
Copper River season gets underway
The Copper River District opened today at 7:00 am for a 12-hour commercial gillnet fishing period. Pleasant weather greeted fishermen as they headed out to the grounds, with temperatures expected to be in the mid-50s and little chance of rain.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) in January projected a sharp decline in the catch of Copper River sockeye.
The state fisheries regulators forecast a total harvest of Copper River sockeye of 970,000 fish, down 23 percent from the 2019 overall harvest, and 25 percent below the 10-year average.
The 2020 commercial common property fishery (CCPF) harvest forecast for the Copper River District is 771,000 sockeye and 223,000 coho salmon. The king salmon common property harvest forecast is 36,000 fish. The 2020 sockeye salmon harvest forecast is 41 percent below the 10-year average of 1.31 million fish.
Wednesday 2:35 pm PST
Will the fish be in stores and restaurants by Friday?
Despite dreary news surrounding whether restaurants will even be operating well enough to offer specialty items like Copper River salmon, some companies are making it work.
One example is Seattle family restaurants such as Anthony's Restaurants -- a key participant in past Copper River kick-off events -- which last week, was not even sure it would be in a position to serve customers.
The company recently learned it will be able to offer Copper River this year, even if the only option is for customers to purchase it for takeout.
"Stay tuned for specific locations," Inge Krippaehne-Kaiser, Anthony's marketing director, told IntraFish.
Seattle-are retailers still plan to have Copper River salmon in some stores on Friday morning, Adam Branin, a meat and seafood merchandiser with Kroger-owned QFC told IntraFish.
"And we hope to have product into all 61 stores by Sunday, provided we get enough fish to do so," he added.
Despite closures reported around the country, Seattle area QFCs have not closed fresh seafood counters.
"We did not close seafood counters due to Covid, quite the opposite," he said.
Branin said he felt a responsibility to help out supplier fishermen and fisheries during the pandemic that started around Lent, with foodservice being decimated by social distancing measures.
Wednesday, 2:06 pm PST
Somber in Seattle
More than 200 Seattle-area hospital workers on Friday morning will be among the first to enjoy the season’s first catch of prized Copper River salmon after it arrives from Cordova, Alaska.
Seattle was one of the first states in the United States to become a coronavirus hot spot.