Copper River Commercial Harvest Off to Robust Start

A winning bid on a first-run harvest Copper River Chinook salmon was placed by an Anchorage family of Bristol Bay harvesters. From left, Scott Blake, CEO of Copper River Seafoods, Bear Libby, 6, his dad, Justin Libby, his mom, Katie Libby, and his little sister, Phoebe Libby, 4. Photo by Margaret Bauman

Commercial harvests on the celebrated Copper River salmon fishery got off to a robust start on May 16, with 376 deliveries bringing in an estimated 41,857 sockeyes, 1,108 Chinook, 251 chum and two cohos, state fisheries biologists said.

Processors responded by offering fishermen $7 a pound for red salmon and $16 a pound for kings. Seafood aficionados yearning for a taste of first-of-the-season wild salmon, meanwhile, paid $489.93 for a whole fresh wild Copper River king and $139.99 for a whole five-pound wild Copper River red salmon at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

Costco stores in Anchorage were selling fillets of Copper River reds for $23.95 a pound for the first run, but as harvests continues to build, reaching a total of167,712 sockeyes by the third opener on May 23, Costco dropped its sockeye fillets price to $14.99 a pound, prompting swift sales from the stores’ coolers.

At 10th & M, a popular Anchorage seafood market, fillets of Copper River reds were priced at $19.95 a pound. Headed-and-gutted reds were $13.95 a pound heading into the Memorial Day weekend, and going fast.

One retail market chain was still hawking previously frozen red salmon fillets from the 2023 season for $10.99 a pound. Prior to the season opener, refreshed, previously frozen wild Alaska sockeye salmon fillets were sold daily at Costco for $9.99 a pound.

Jeremy Botz, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova, said the harvest from the first 12-hour fishing period exceeded expectations.

Botz estimated there were an estimated 325 to 350 drift gillnetters from the fishing grounds for the first opener. By the third opener the sockeye salmon harvest had jumped to 73,931 reds and a total of 422 deliveries.

Upscale restaurants in Anchorage had fillets of Copper River sockeye salmon on their dinner menus, with Simon & Seafort offering an entree of fresh Copper River sockeye with Jasmine rice and market vegetables for $52.

Copper River Seafoods celebrated the first opener with its First Fish gala at the Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage, with the focus on family fun and education about the importance of Copper River salmon both for personal and economic health.

Bite-size gourmet tastes of Copper River’s first fish prepared by several Anchorage chefs were snapped up by 400 participants. The event also raised over $8,300 for the Make A Wish Foundation.

A Bristol Bay fisherman had the winning bid of $2,800 on a whole fresh Copper River king, plus a grill and starter bundle from an appliance store.

Copper River Seafoods CEO Scott Blake began offering the First Fish events several years ago, in conjunction with ceremonies on the tarmac of SeaTac Airport in Seattle, so that Alaskans, as well as Washington state residents, could mark the arrival of the first big commercial salmon opener in Alaska each year.