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2013 Chitina forecast: Lots of reds but not many kings

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 6:33 am, Thu Jan 17, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — There should be plenty of red salmon in the Copper River for Chitina dip-netters to scoop up this summer, but that probably won’t be the case for king salmon, based on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2013 Copper River salmon forecast.

Commercial fisheries biologists in Cordova are projecting a sockeye salmon run of 2.24 million in the Copper River this coming summer, which would be the 11th-largest red salmon run since 1980.

The chinook forecast, however, is not as bright. The 2013 projection for king salmon is 46,300, which would be the fifth-smallest since 1980. An average king run is about 70,000 fish.

Chitina dip-netters, who are allowed to keep one king salmon as part of their bag limit, have been restricted from keeping kings the last three years as a result of lower-than-normal king runs and that will likely be the case again this year if the king run doesn’t pan out.

The last three years, dip-netters have only been able to keep kings for the first week or two of the season before the

department pulled the plug on the king harvest. No decisions regarding this year’s dip net fishery have been made at this point but given that this year’s king forecast is slightly lower than last year, it’s safe to say the department will be conservative at the start of the season, area biologist Mark Somerville in Glennallen said.

“I imagine we’ll be going into the season pretty cautiously,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll do anything preseason yet or not. We haven’t made that jump yet.”

This year’s preseason projections are almost identical to last year for both reds and kings. And while the weak king forecast last year turned out to be true, the red salmon run far exceeded the preseason projection.

The 2012 red salmon run was estimated at almost 3.1 million, which ranks in the top five of all time. The commercial harvest was 1.85 million and another 1.2 million were counted by sonar at Miles Lake, which is below the personal-use, subsistence and sport fisheries.

This year’s sockeye forecast of 2.24 million is close to recent 10-year average of 2.28 million. Biologists are projecting a run of 1.84 million wild fish and another 400,000 Gulkana Hatchery-raised fish.

However, based on the number of 4-year-old fish that returned last year, biologists say this year’s red run could be even larger. Last year’s crop of 4-year-olds  was the fourth-largest since 1965 and one of six that has exceeded 400,000, which bodes well for this year’s crop of 5-year-olds, Moffitt said. Of the six years when the 4-year-old crop has exceeded 400,000 fish, the sockeye return has turned out to be much larger than predicted in five of those years, he said.

“That usually means we’re going to have a good-sized run,” Moffitt said.

Contact outdoors editor Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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