Copper River Dock Talk

News from the fishery

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Crazy Season Start

Post by Jen Pickett of PickFish Tales

It’s been a crazy start to the season.  The season opened with 50 knots of wind and 15 foot seas.  A lot of guys sat it out and I don’t blame them.  I got to go out on the second opener with my friend Tracy.  The weather was about as nice as it gets out there.  I even got photos to prove it!  The third opener was cancelled because not enough fish were going up the river.  The fourth was great with a bunch of fish caught.  We have yet to have a fifth opener, it was closed last Thursday, which is a day we typically fish and  it will be closed again until further notice.  Fish are starting heading up the river now, but Fish and Game wants to see a few more click by the counter before they let us take a whack at them.

There are photos from May 27th’s commercial opener.  Enjoy!
IMG_3472 IMG_3470 IMG_3478 IMG_3484 IMG_3486 IMG_3499 IMG_3508



Miles Lake Sonar

Miles Lake Sonar (in summer)

Sustainability, without it our fishery would have no future.


Wednesday’s news release from Alaska Department of Fish & Game informed the fleet of the closure of the Copper River District to commercial fishing on Thursday.  “The fishery is closed because we need to ensure the escapement during all times of the run to ensure sustainability.” says Steve Moffitt, a Fisheries Biologist at ADF&G.

Sustainability is an important part of all Alaskan fisheries.  So important that legislation is written into the Alaska Constitution, mandating that “fish…be utilized, developed, and maintained on the sustained yield principle.”  The bottom line is that they need to make certain that salmon are getting into the river to spawn, that way there will be more fish in the future.  “In Alaska, protecting the future of fish stocks takes precedence over opportunities for commercial harvest.” 

The Copper River fishing season begins in mid-May because that is when the fish start moving upriver.  However this summer they are moving a little slower.  Jermey Botz, the Gillnet Area Management Biologist, stated the temperature at the Miles Lake sonar is “one of the coldest we’ve ever seen.”  The sonar has counted 26,654 fish as of yesterday while the anticipated number was 174,411 fish.  Could it be that the water is still too cold for the migrating masses?  Everyone who has a stake in this fishery wants to make sure there’s a future, this means pulling in their nets and giving the salmon time to get to their spawning beds.

Instead of getting ready to head out to the grounds tomorrow, the fishermen of Cordova are checking their email everyday waiting for news.

Until then:

The Copper River District will remain closed to commercial fishing.
The next commercial fishing period may occur on short notice based on continued assessment of inriver passage.



This guest post from local Shelly Kocan, author of the blog South of Ultima Thule recounts her first experience with one of the perks of being Cordovan, subsistence fishing.

Another first happened earlier this week.

Heading Out to Fish

Heading Out to Fish

We went out on our first subsistence opener: gillnetting for Copper River Kings and Reds.

I realize I’ve used 4 terms in the first sentence that are already making this post unintelligible to those not immersed in fishing culture, but it’s all about context and hopefully I’ll sort you out by the end .

This subsistence fishery allows rural Alaskans, in this case residents of Cordova, to use gillnets to catch a certain amount of salmon each year. Our household of two is allowed 30 salmon, 5 of which can be Kings…yum.

This is our third salmon season.  We’ve fished for silvers in the fall with rod and reel and bought reds (Sockeye) & kings (Chinook) from local fishermen in early summer to smoke and can.  We’ve never had it together to go out on a subsistence opener. You need a boat, or a friend with a boat, and a net and buoys and probably some other things I’m forgetting at the moment.

Bowpicker Subsistence Fishing

Bowpicker Subsistence Fishing

But either way we finally got all that stuff together and were eagerly awaiting the next required trifecta:

1. an opener (currently a 12 hour period when fishing is permitted in certain areas: usually falls on Mondays and Thursdays around here)

2. a nice day with calm seas (we have a small jet boat…not exactly very sea worthy)

3. a day off of work for both my husband and I (remember it needs to fall on Mon or Thurs…)

It all lined up on Memorial Day and what a treat it was.  We did get up at 4:40am but it was totally worth it…and yes the sun was already up.

Early Morning Heath

Early Morning Heath

It’s nice to get a taste of what all those commercial fishermen are doing out there.  I live in a town that revolves around fishing, you could play the 7 degrees of separation game between fishing and any person in this town and there wouldn’t be more than one degree.  Everyone knows, works with, lives next to or is related to a fisherman.  That being said I’m pretty clueless about the actual process of fishing.  This one day experience was incredibly educational…and super fun.

The Corkline on the Gill Net

The Corkline on the Gill Net

I actually understand what a gillnet is now…cork line, lead line, web…got it. It’s only taken a few years. I really needed to just see it and do it, to understand.  That’s the corkline in the picture above, the net or web hangs directly down from it and it pulled down by a lead line.  This net is 50 fathoms long or 100yds, the length of a football field, which I guess is a “known” distance to most people…myself not exactly included.  The commercial gillnetters use nets 3 times as long…and luckily hydraulic reels to help haul them in.

So the fish are just heading inland, doing their anadromous salmon thing, and they run smack in to the net getting caught behind their gills…or all tangled up in it, in the case of a king.

I'm supposed to be helping

I’m supposed to be helping

This was our first king and I was supposed to be helping untangle the net quickly, not taking pictures, but I couldn’t help it, it was so exciting!

It was surprisingly fun and so satisfying to pull in the net and find salmon stuck in it. It seemed half a miracle to me.

We spent a day getting the boat ready, a long day out fishing and it will be another day putting the boat to bed and getting all the fish smoked.  But at the end of it we’ll have a year built around many delicious meals of salmon that we pulled from the ocean ourselves.  It makes a person feel pretty good.

End of the Day

End of the Day

We’ve got salmon drying now and waiting for the smoker and I feel very protective of it.  The taste of King Salmon is divine, and hot off the smoker we’ve affectionately named it “bacon of the sea,” because it’s that good.   So here’s to a successful first, and a successful fish, and hopefully many more.

Subsistence Opener


Hitting Markets Near You?

Hands down the question we get the most is “Where can I Find Copper River Salmon near me?”  Last summer we started on a solution, the Copper River Salmon locator is a way for people to share where they’re finding Copper River Salmon.  The locator is populated by YOU!  Let’s hear where your finding this delicious fish!

Wholefoods Dallas @smonkeyslippers

Wholefoods Dallas
Photo by @smonkeyslippers

Central Market Dallas @smonkeyslippers

Central Market Dallas
Photo by @smonkeyslippers

Whole Foods in Fairfax, VA @tablefortwoblog

Whole Foods in Fairfax, VA
Photo by @tablefortwoblog

Sanders Fish Market in NH @SandersFish

Sanders Fish Market in NH
Photo by @SandersFish

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From Gales to Sunshine

Empty Harbor

Empty Harbor

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” -John Steinbeck

In Alaska dramatic weather change isn’t limited to seasons but days; a Monday can bring 30° temperatures, hail, and wind while on Tuesday the clouds roll out and the sun shines through.  The fishermen of Copper River Salmon have experienced dramatically different weather in the first 2 openers.  Check it out for yourself!

Going Out - First Opener

Going Out – First Opener

The fishermen set out for the first opener with the wind back their back and gale force winds ahead of them.

Coming In - First Opener

Coming In – First Opener

The weather did not let up during the fishing opener, thankfully everyone returned home safe and with lots of fish!

Going Out - Second Opener

Going Out – Second Opener

This Sunday, the fleet went out to the grounds in t-shirts!  Check out the mountains that were invisible days before.

Coming In - Second Opener

Coming In – Second Opener

Welcome home!  Hope the weather keeps shining for the next opener!

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Tailor made forecast for the first Copper River opener

Seems like mother nature has it in for us here on the Copper River.  The first commercial fishing opener of the season and is 12 hours long, from 7 AM to 7 PM tomorrow, May 16, 2013.   Seems like that is the exact time the weather is supposed to turn to be UGLY.  The 4PM NOAA Marine weather update for the Copper River area, which is Cape Suckling to Gore Point,is as follows:  Gale Warning. SE wind 30 kt increasing to 40 kt by midday. Seas 14 ft.  Well, that’s one way to kick off the season.  Let’s hope there is some fish out there to make it all worth it!

Oh well, guys are all a buzz getting ready anyhow.  There was a line up at the fuel dock, the boat launch, the cannery where guys ice up, the grocery store, the gear store: Even a line up at the phone company hooking up last minute local cell phones. Amidst all the scurry,  some are still scrambling to get their nets on, their boats in the water, fueled up, iced up and psyched up!  I went down to the harbor a little while ago and it was still full! You’d never even know there’s going to be an opener tomorrow.  But they are starting to dribble out.  High water is a 6PM today, a good time to leave.  I don’t blame them either with that forecast. I wouldn’t want to be out there any longer than I had to either.  A few fishermen said they will probably get up early and take a look and if its too bad out, go back to bed.  They all say this but they always end up going.

Good luck out there and stay safe!

Fueling up.

Fueling up.

Heading out to the fishing grounds.

Heading out to the fishing grounds.

Goin' Fishin'!

Goin’ Fishin’!

Drumming the net on board.

Drumming the net on board.

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Cordova’s Sometimes Annual Fisher Poets


Eric Manzer


Buck Meloy

Cordova’s very own celebrate their fishing culture with verse, song and food.  Last Thursday at the Anchor Bar & Grill located down in the Old Harbor, fisherpoets schooled up to perform original lines to a packed house.


The Crowd

Themes ranged from mending woes, as described by Patty McGuire by “miles and miles of little green piles” to burials at sea gone awry, to thanking salmoning, from sitting on a bucket in the rain to dangerous bar crossings, to one liners heard on board a seiner.


Steve Schoonmaker

Other themes touched on a more political side of issues that can threaten our fisheries such as Pebble Mine and genetically modified salmon, sung to the tune of Old McDonald had a farm, no less.  “Man, my food is really creeping me out, e i e i o.  I think I’m getting a case of the gout, e i e i o.

The evening ended with musicians bringing down the house.


Kim Menster & Tracy Nuzzi



Mike Mickelson


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‘Twas the week before fishing

Post By Jen Pickett of PickFish Tales

 ‘Twas the week before fishing, and all through the town

Every fisherman was serious with stirring, even the clowns;

The jets were getting hung on the sterns with care,

In hopes that those Copper River salmon would soon be here.


As the Copper River fishing season creeps up upon us here in Cordova, Alaska fishermen all over town are a buzz.  The countdown has begun!  10 days before the beginning of the season, which starts May 16th, 7 AM and is open for 12 hours.

Some guys and gals are just finishing up their planned winter projects of flushing their decks, rewiring their boats, replacing steering lines, installing hydraulics, splash zoning, or replacing their engines, to name a few.  Others have discovered surprises on their boats, such as finding out water leaked into their fish hold over the winter, froze, expanded, and cracked said fish hold.  No bueno.

This time of year, fishermen can be found wherever their boat is, old harbor, new harbor, outside the cannery, their front yard.  Each one is busy as a little beaver wrenching on something.  But they still find time to advise each other.  Or BSing with each other, hard telling with fishermen.


But, they are making headway.  A few days ago the south fill looked like this:



Today, it looked like this:


The boat launch is full of activity, too.  Boats are launching or getting pulled out for more maintenance.



It won’t be long now.   These guys will have their boats in tip-top shape in order to bring you what we have all been waiting for, Copper River Salmon.


Welcome to Cordova

Cordova Alaska

I am coming upon my 3rd anniversary with Cordova.  My first impressions are still so clear to me: while enjoying the walk from one side of town to the other, I exclaimed about all the bear-proof trash cans downtown!  “Do bears really roam around downtown???”  As a whole, Cordova is such a magical place to take in for the first time.  A small town built on the edge of the ocean and the foot of mountains is something rare to see, especially when it’s only accessible by boat or plane.

Downtown Cordova

That’s right!  There’s no road that connects Cordova to the outside world, just a handful that run a few miles before they dead-end into the natural world.  The population of 2200 that lives in a nook of 61.4 square miles is a very close-knit community.  A trip to the grocery store or a stroll down main street always includes running into a few people you know.

Cordova Street Map

Thanks for stopping by to check out the new blog!  Come back to find stories of town, fishing, and the people who make them both great.  Jump over to the right column of this site to subscribe via email or follow us on twitter.

See you soon!