Harvesters in the Copper River fishery, braving opening day rain and temperatures in the low 40s, made 481 deliveries for the season opener on May 18, including 1,879 Chinooks and 36,066 sockeye salmon.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Cordova office said average weights for the opener were 19.9 pounds for kings and 5.2 pounds for reds. Those weights rose to 20.8 pounds on average for kings and 5.3 pounds for reds on the second opener May 22, with 439 deliveries to processors, including 1,737 kings and 51,860 reds.
That brought the total for the first two openers to 920 deliveries, 3,616 kings and 87,926 red salmon. Harvesters have also delivered 1,047 chum salmon whose weight averaged 6.9 pounds on the first opener and 7.4 pounds on the second.
The Copper River fishery got underway a week later than usual because of Chinook salmon conservation efforts. Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management for Prince William Sound, cautioned against comparing the first run 2017 harvest to that of a year ago, which brought in some 2,000 kings and 59,000 sockeyes.
The king salmon forecast for the Copper River this year is 29,000 fish, the smallest since 1985.
An Alaska Airlines 737 delivered 22,000 pounds of fresh Copper River salmon to Seattle on May 19, one the first of four scheduled flights from Cordova that day. By day’s end, the airline had delivered 77,000 pounds of fresh reds and kings to markets in Seattle and Anchorage.
Every year the airline partners with Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods to deliver the salmon catch to Seattle, Anchorage and beyond.
The arrival of the first Copper River salmon of the season was celebrated in Seattle with much hoopla. Three of Seattle’s best chefs competed in the eighth annual Copper Chef Cook-off for the best salmon recipe. The winner was executive chef John Sundstrom of Lark restaurant. In Anchorage, celebration included the sampling of gourmet appetizers topped with fresh wild sockeye salmon, courtesy of Copper River Seafoods. A 45-pound king salmon donated by Ocean Beauty Seafoods was declared the season’s first fish, the catch of the day.
Opener prices to fishermen were $8 a pound for sockeyes and $11 for Chinooks, up from $7 and $9 respectively a year ago, said Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods.
High retail prices aside for first run Copper River salmon failed, as usual, to deter consumers eager for the first fresh salmon of the season.
At 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage, fillets were $38.95 a pound for sockeyes and $59.95 a pound for kings.Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle hailed the fresh Copper River fish on its website, which pictured its fishmongers whole kings, going for $55.99 a pound and whole reds, at $143.96 a fish. Pike Place also had Copper River king fillets for $74.99 a pound and Copper River sockeye fillets for $47.99 a pound.
Prices will decline rapidly as more fish come in from the Copper River district and soon from other areas in Alaska.
Updates on Alaska’s commercial wild salmon harvest are online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyfisherysalmon.bluesheet