Salmon acceleration up Copper River may be due to early breakup

An early break up on the Copper River may accelerate salmon moving upstream. Glenallen area state sportfish biologist Mark Sommerville says little ice remains and water levels are unusually low, conditions that may lead to warmer water and trigger early fish migration.

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“I would anticipate them to be a little bit early just based on what I’m seeing, but don’t me to that,” Sommerville said.

Sommerville says the first sockeye and king salmon are usually counted moving up the lower Copper River in mid May. Dip Netting at Chitina is scheduled to open June 7th, the earliest it can under state regulations. The popular fishery is coming off a record 2015 harvest of 225 thousand fish. It was the first year under an increased bag limit, but Sommerville suspects several factors were likely in play.

“I think it had something to do with it but not nearly as much as people might think,” Somerville said. “Last year we also had the largest number of fish ever come up the river; 1.3 million fish came past the sonar. We also had excellent fishing conditions.”

Sommerville says participation was up, with about 75 hundred people dip netting at Chitina last summer. This year’s Copper River salmon run is forecast to be over 2 point 5 million fish, the 10th largest on record. The estimate includes 64 thousand kings. The Chitina Dipnetters Association holds its annual meeting in Fairbanks tonight (Tues.). Among agenda items is an update on safety upgrades to the trail between O’Brien and Haley Creeks, a primary access route for dipnetters that suffered damage from land slides in past years.