The Copper River Flats season started Monday at 7 a.m. for a 12-hour opener

Alaska’s Copper River salmon fishery opens by the calendar every year, close to May 15. This year, that is Monday, May 17 (also Norwegian Independence Day, Syttende Mai). A subsistence 12-hour opener was granted on Saturday, May 15. Reports were nice weather, a few kings and fewer reds or sockeyes.

The feeling around town in Cordova is mixed. One the one hand, it is traditionally an optimistic time of year locally — a town of about 2,500 residents, nestled between mountains and ocean, only accessible by boat or by plane. And of course, flanked by the mighty Copper River.

Nearly 5 million shorebirds migrate through the area on their annual pilgrimage to their nesting grounds in the Arctic. Next comes the salmon and folks returning for the salmon season.

After a skinny salmon season last year, and of course the coronavirus, folks here still dare to be optimistic. I find the typical Cordova greeting is one of outstretched arms for a hug and a simultaneous “I’m vaccinated.”

On the other hand, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s forecast for the 2021 Copper River Salmon Forecast Summary is less than ideal. It’s the lowest forecast in years. These forecasts are inherently uncertain, though they are used to estimate the magnitude of expected run and for management. This is compounded by the local daily temperatures of about 45 degrees F and the ice upriver that has yet to melt. The two sonars that are used to count fish returning are not deployable until Miles Lake ice releases upriver.

At least the weather forecast is relatively nice, though a bit rolly and cold, for the Gulf of Alaska, where the Copper River drains and where the fleet fishes — W wind 15 knots and seas at 5 feet.

Jen Pickett, PhD, is a fisherpoet, recovering commercial fisherman, and a behavioral scientist.

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