Kodiak Fish Market will be offering Copper River Salmon shortly after the fishery opens in mid-May. If you are from the Pacific Northwest, then you are most likely familiar with the excitement and rush to get the “first fish”. Alaska Airlines jets are put on standby at Cordova’s Merle “Mudhole” Smith airport, 13 miles from the small town of Cordova. Once the first fish are landed, they are flown straight to Seattle and then to points east.

However, if you are not familiar with Copper River Salmon, then you might wonder what all the fuss is about! First of all, let me start by saying that
all salmon harvested throughout Alaska is wild and is sustainably managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. There is often debate among Alaskan
salmon fishermen about which area produces the “best” salmon, but it is undeniable that Copper River salmon has a brand name that has achieved national
and even worldwide acclaim.

Photo courtesy of Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association

Salmon fishing in Cordova and throughout Alaska is simply a way of life. Unlike other types of fishing, there is something special about salmon fishing
that draws families back every year. Check this video from the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association that gives a glimpse into the
lives of the men and women who dedicate themselves to producing Copper River salmon.In the 1980’s, the majority of sockeye salmon caught in Alaska
was shipped to Japan and very little sockeye was sold domestically in the “lower 48”.

This as partly due to the lack of a robust domestic market combined with aggressive competition from farmed salmon from Norway and Chile. Taking matters
into their own hands, Copper River fishermen gathered together to investigate how to improve the salmon market. Working with Jon Rowley, a seafood
business consultant, fishermen developed strict quality standards and a new personalized approach and began introducing Copper River salmon to chefs
throughout the Pacific Northwest. This often meant selling
salmon one box at a time to restaurants, supermarkets and individual customers throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Over time, these Cordova fishermen were able to build brand equity in the Copper River name which is now synonymous with the “first fish” of the season
and for consistent high quality. To achieve this high quality, once the fish is caught and removed from the net, it is individually bled and iced
to preserve freshness, minimize scale loss and reduce bruising. The fish are stored in ice onboard the gillnet boats at 32 degrees. When the boats
arrive at the dock, the mesh brailer bags holding the fish are lifted out of the boat and brought into the processing plant. The fish are sorted and
sent down the processing line to be headed and gutted and packed for shipment or they are directed to the fillet line where the fish is split, filleted
and all bones are removed. The quality process begins with how the fish is handled on the boat and extends all the way to the processing plant
and air cargo shipment.

alaska-airlines-1

Photo courtesy of Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association

I touched on Alaska Airlines and the logistics chain that is necessary to deliver that first fish to the marketplace. If you are still wondering about
the degree of excitement that is created in anticipation of the first fish, consider these pictures from Alaska Airlines showing the first fish being
delivered to Seattle. The second picture shows an Alaska Air jet painted with the salmon livery. In 2015, Alaska Airlines moved over 1.2 million pounds
of salmon from Cordova to the lower 48.

The 2016 Copper River salmon season opens on May 16th. We expect to have salmon for sale around the 20th, so stay tuned and get ready to be part of the excitement of this amazing, sustainably harvested wild salmon from Copper River.

 

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