It’s here. Alaska’s prized Copper River salmon fishery — the unofficial start of Alaska’s summer salmon season — kicked off at 7 a.m. on Thursday for the first of several 12-hour openers, and the first batch of fish touch downed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at daybreak on Friday.
An Alaska Airlines flight hauling about 20,000 pounds of king and sockeye salmon from three processors — Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods — arrived to a red-carpet ceremony on the runway, followed by the “Copper Chef Cook-Off,” hosted by Alaska Airlines in its warehouse (the airline delivered 1.8 million pounds of Copper River salmon last year). The three competing Seattle chefs were Pat Donahue of Anthony’s Restaurants, Jason Wilson of CRUSH and Wayne Johnson of Ray’s Boathouse. They had 30 minutes to prepare and serve the salmon to a panel of judges, including Jay Buhner, a former Seattle Mariners baseball player; Joanne Dunham, co-owner of Dunham Cellars; Gary Horner, senior winemaker at Erath Winery; and Bill Ayer, chairman of Alaska Air Group.
And, once again, Donahue won the competition, making it three in a row. Alaska Airlines announced the winner via Twitter account, @AlaskaAir, at about 8 a.m. local time. Donahue’s winning recipe was Wild Copper River King Alder Planked with Rhubarb Cherry Coulis.
After the competition, the first batch of Cooper River salmon made its way into the marketplace, where, according to Seattle’s KOMO, it commanded USD 19.99 a pound for whole fish and USD 29.99 for fillets at Pike Place Fish in downtown Seattle. One source told SeafoodSource that the kings sold out in a matter of hours and only sockeye remained by day’s end. On Saturday, one Tacoma, Wash., retailer charged USD 39.99 a pound for king fillets and USD 24.99 for sockeye fillets, he added.
Editor’s note: For an in-depth look at how the market for Cooper River salmon is expected to play out this season, check out this week’s market report, available only to SeafoodSource premium members.
Back on the fishing grounds near Cordova, fishermen were getting USD 6 to 6.50 a pound for kings and USD 4 for sockeye, according to the source.
To the delight of fishermen and processors, Thursday’s weather conditions in the Prince William Sound region were quite favorable, ideal for a strong opener. “It’s beautiful today — sunny, clear and in the high 40s,” said Jessika Dart-Mclean of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association in Cordova, Alaska, on Thursday.
Actually, on Tuesday, the Copper River was open to subsistence fishing for seven hours. “I heard a lot of feedback that there’s quite a bit of fish out there,” said Dart-Mclean.
On Saturday, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) confirmed that Thursday’s 12-hour opener yielded about 1,100 kings and 155,000 sockeye, compared to the forecast of 2,100 kings and 32,000 sockeye. Last year’s 12-hour opener produced 1,658 kings and 101,957 sockeye. The fishery is set to reopen at 7 a.m. on Monday, according to the ADF&G.
This year, the Copper River fishery is projected to yield 27,000 kings and 1.43 million sockeye, according to the ADF&G preliminary forecast, released in January.
Last year, the fishery produced 20,000 kings, which was below the 10-year average of 30,000 fish, and 2.1 million sockeye, which was above the 10-year average of 1.14 million fish, according to the ADF&G. The harvest also churned out 128,000 coho, which was below the 10-year average of 291,000 fish.
Once again this season, the fishery is generating a lot of buzz. “I’ve been on the Copper River salmon Facebook page for the last two days just trying to keep up with all of the comments,” said Dart-Mclean.