On January 20, 2017, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Commercial Fisheries Division issued their 2017 Prince William Sound and Copper River salmon forecast. They predict a return to the Copper River of 1,510,000 sockeye (3rd smallest forecast in last 20 years) and a return of 29,000 chinook (smallest forecast in last 20 years).
In response to the extremely low run forecast for chinook, Fish and Game, on March 6, 2017, issued emergency orders for the Upper Copper River sport fishery, the Chitina sub-district personal use dip net fishery(CPUDF), and the Glennallen subsistence fishery. Effective June 7, all chinook salmon caught in the CPUDF must be released immediately and returned to the water unharmed. Effective May 1, all chinook salmon sport fisheries in the Upper Copper River drainage will be closed even for catch and release. Effective June1, the Glennallen sub-district subsistence fishery chinook harvest limit is reduced to 2 by fish wheel or dip net.
The minimum chinook spawning escapement for the Copper River is 24,000. With a run forecast of 29,000, that only leaves a harvestable surplus of 5,000 chinook to be divided between the commercial and subsistence fisheries. In the last 10 years the smallest harvest of chinook by the commercial fleet was 9,445. For 2017 Fish and Game has set a chinook commercial harvest goal of 3,500, but have issued no plan or emergency order as to how they will hold the commercial fleet to that low number. To somewhat force the issue, the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, with input from CDA, will be filing an emergency petition with the Alaska Board of Fisheries (UPDATE: April 6, 2017 2017 Emergency Petition, as submitted.) requesting the department prepare and publish an additional emergency order detailing the actions to be taken to manage the commercial fishery to achieve the minimum chinook salmon escapement goal for the Copper River in 2017. Included in the petition will be suggested actions to meet this goal.