Copper River salmon season limps out of the gate
Copper River salmon landings are coming in slower than expected, especially given this season’s high forecast. Still, select restaurants and retailers across the United States are touting the fact that they are among the first to bring the prized fish to market.
Since the season opened on 14 May, 56,000 sockeyes and 4,200 king salmon have been landed in total. In the second fishing period, 40,000 sockeyes and 2,800 kings were landed. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) had anticipated 92,000 sockeye would be landed in that outing.
In total, ADF&G predicts 2.2 million sockeye, 214,000 coho and 6,000 chinook for the Copper River District this season.
“It’s slower than anticipated and slower than last season,” said Jeremy Botz, ADF&G’s area commercial salmon fisheries management biologist for Prince William Sound/Copper River. “It has been a warmer spring. We expected salmon to be here early, but we don’t have that early run strength. I’m hopeful that they are just a little delayed.”
With the projected heavy sockeye run and inventories from last year, buyers expect downward pressure on prices. However, lower prices are not yet evident as everyone scrambles to offer the first Copper River fish of the season.
Prince Cruises was one of the first to snare the coveted fish when a helicopter carrying the first catch arrived outside the King Salmon Restaurant at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge in Alaska on 15 May via processor Copper River Seafoods.
Many other restaurants and grocery chains followed suit.
“People have been calling for months now asking if we were still going to run our annual [Copper River] tent sale,” said Dan Humphrey, meat and seafood director for Sunset Foods in Highland Park, Ill. Indeed, Sunset Foods is holding its “Whole Copper River Sockeye Salmon Tent Sale” on 23 May, offering the fish for USD 20 (EUR 17.98) per pound. “We usually sell out in two to three hours,” Humphrey said.
However, not everyone is buying into the “first of the season” Copper River hype. “We used to pay for a plane to fly it to Anchorage then have it Fed Ex-ed to a restaurant in Washington, D.C. It has become so overpriced, that we wait until it comes back to reality,” said Tim Sughrue, executive VP of wholesale distributor Congressional Seafood in Jessup, Md. “We are trying to provide value for our customers.”
Meanwhile, the third commercial fishing outing for Copper River salmon opened on 21 May for 24 hours.