The fishing families of south central Alaska are 560 independent, small business owners dedicated to long term sustainability of wild salmon stocks.
Copper River Salmon Celebrates Forty Years of Fresh
(UNITED STATES, 5/10/2023)
The Copper River Salmon season opens Monday, May 15th and anticipation is high for the robust genetically rich salmon that return to the cold glacial waters of the Copper River each season.
The steep river is home to five species of salmon and for the 2023 season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts the Copper River king salmon run to be above average.
Excitement is running high amongst fishermen, but the significance of this season runs deeper as it marks the 40th anniversary of when Copper River King salmon made the leap from cans into fresh distribution. Prior to 1983, the ultra-rich king was caught, processed, and tucked into cans for domestic markets. A small amount was shipped frozen to Japan.
Every year, May marks the beginning of the Copper River Salmon season. Stretching through September, this season is awaited around the world for its renowned wild King, Sockeye, and Coho salmon.
As American consumer tastes expanded there was increased interest in wild and unique foods. A small cadre of Copper River fishermen took a risk and made a pivot towards handling the fish differently and shipping them fresh to select markets in the Lower 48. Working closely with Seattle seafood and restaurant consultant Jon Rowley at the time, was a leap of faith and played a key role in the fishery then and now. Rowley knew that the oil-rich salmon was genetically superior and eminently marketable. He worked directly with fishermen to improve quality and handling and to bring the salmon to Seattle restaurant clients immediately after it was caught.
Copper River Salmon are more than just salmon: they are a culture; a driving force; a source of life for an entire community.
Jerry McCune, a Copper River fisherman for 64 years, explained in an interview how making quality paramount required the fishermen to adjust what they were doing and how much fish they were catching. They had to take the unprecedented steps to bleed, clean, and ice the fish on board to maintain the inherent characteristics of the fish and they were the ones who had to secure air transport into and out of Cordova to get the fish delivered to Seattle and elsewhere in top condition.
McCune explained, "The end result of this whole thing was that we broke the market and proved we could get fish out fresh and of high quality."
Christa Hoover, the Executive Director of the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association reflects, "As this momentous season launches here in Cordova, we are so pleased that we could revisit and share the history of how the revered Copper River King salmon made a leap into a new realm".
"Conducting oral interviews and digging through historical archives, it has been incredibly satisfying to see how the fishery has evolved and yet remained steadfastly committed to quality for the consumer. We look forward to sharing this story now and into the future," Hoover said.
To find Copper River Salmon, search for it on the Fish Finder.
About The Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association
The Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association is a regional seafood development association. As a marketing association, the association does not sell wild Alaskan Copper River or Prince William Sound salmon. The association is a fishermen funded non-profit and works on behalf of 560 drift and set gill net fishermen in South Central Alaska, telling the story of wild salmon from wild places and the men and women who harvest them is its primary function.
Source: Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association