This year’s first delivery of Copper River salmon to the Lower 48 touched down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport soon after daybreak on Tuesday. Monday’s opening of the Copper River fishery marks the unofficial start of Alaska’s summer salmon season, and typically there’s a lot of media hoopla surrounding the salmon’s arrival.

About 24,000 pounds of the prized fish, which arrived via an Alaska Airlines 737-400 freighter, was purchased by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods.

The first fish was carried off the plane by an Alaska Airlines pilot, who delivered it to three chefs competing in an Alaska Airlines-sponsored cook-off. And for the second consecutive year, Pat Donahue of Anthony’s Restaurants won the competition, the airline announced via its Twitter account at 11:29 a.m. EST on Tuesday.

The cook-off also featured the executive chefs from Elliott’s Oyster House and SkyCity at the Space Needle. The chefs had 30 minutes to prepare and serve the salmon to a panel of judges, which included “Deadliest Catch” star Mike Fourtner, former Seattle Mariners ballplayer Jay Buhner and Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ VP of marketing.

According to Alaska Airlines, there will be at least five more flights from fishing grounds in Cordova, in central Alaska, to Anchorage and then to Seattle on Tuesday. Last year, the airline flew more than 22 million pounds of fresh Alaska seafood to the Lower 48, including nearly 700,000 pounds of Copper River salmon.

“We’re proud to bring this prized, wild Copper River salmon to the Lower 48 and points beyond,” said Sprague. “With enhanced food quality procedures and additional flights to support the Alaska seafood industry, we are going the extra mile to deliver fresh seafood throughout the country.”

Monday’s opening of the Copper River fishery lasted 12 hours. The second 12-hour opener is expected on Thursday.

Cordova District Fishermen United reported via its Facebook page that ex-vessel prices are coming in at around USD 4 for sockeye and USD 6.50 for kings, while chums are fetching around USD 3. Fishing is reportedly strong, and the weather is agreeing with fishermen.

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