King salmon sport fishing in Upper Copper River closed this season

The Klutina River, a tributary of the Copper River (Photo: Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

The Department of Fish and Game announced today (March 7) that all king salmon sport fisheries in the Upper Copper River drainage will be closed for the season due to declining salmon returns. Other closures will also be implemented in an effort to ensure enough fish make it upriver to spawn.

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Fish and Game said the minimum amount of king salmon the department wants for maintaining populations, or escapement, is 24,000 for the Copper River system, and the total run is estimated at only about 5,000 salmon above that.

Mark Somerville is a biologist with the Upper Copper River.

“Right now we’ve issued a pre-season closure of all king salmon sport fisheries in the Upper Copper River so that includes the Klutina and Gulkana,” Somerville said. “So at this moment, unless we see significant increase or significant improvement of the run in the season that shows that we’re exceeding our forecast, those fisheries will not open this year.”

Somerville noted limited closures aren’t anything new, but this year’s closures are much grander in scope.

“We’ve seen downturns in king salmon populations across the state over the last five to six years, and there’s been closures of king salmon fisheries in various areas of the state,” Somerville said. “This is the first time we’ve had to completely close the fishery here pre-season. But we have had closures and restrictions since 2009.”

Limits in fishing won’t just be felt by sport fishermen this year. Somerville said there have been limits on subsistence fisherman. For the first time, there is a bag limit of only two king salmon for people fishing in the subsistence areas with fish wheels. And Chitina dipnetters will not be allowed to retain any king salmon this summer. Additionally, efforts have been made to limit commercial harvest of king salmon.

“What is done down in the Copper River to reduce the incidental harvest of king salmon during sockeye fishery is the fleet is not allowed to fish within the Barrier Islands area; it’s called the king salmon closure area,” Somerville explained. “In those shallower waters, their gear is a little bit more effective at king salmon so they’re not allowed to fish within those areas. And secondly, their whole fishery is based on time and area, so the amount of time they’ll be able to fish this year will be greatly reduced.”

Somerville said those reductions may result in just one or two openers weekly.

The state also issued closures or restrictions for areas in Juneau and Ketchikan.