Traditions – Alaska is steeped in them. Cordova has its fair share, but a favorite is Cordova District Fishermen United’s Senior Salmon Day.
Copper River salmon drift fishermen donate hundreds of Copper River sockeye each year, in times both lean and plenty. Local processors and community volunteers pitch in too, because even in Cordova, home to the Copper River fishing fleet, there are many households without access to those prized fish.
Luckily, fishermen are a generous bunch, and CDFU helps to harness that generosity by hosting an annual sidewalk giveaway for community elders age 60 and up. The mid-June date is usually coordinated with Copper River Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, and Trident Seafoods, who tender, process and deliver the iced fresh pin-boned fillets to the Union Hall on First Street.
Local high school students volunteer to help bag up the fish, which is distributed by CDFU Executive Director Rachel Kallander and Kelsey Appleton, coordinator for the Ship Escort/Response Vessel System.
Senior Salmon day is a favorite program for the student volunteers, CDFU staff and fishermen alike.
“Sure, commercial fishing for salmon is my livelihood, but each one of these fish is more than simply a dollar sign to me,” said Liam Corcoran, who has been fishing the Copper River fishery for 11 years, following in his father’s footsteps. “They are food. Who doesn’t feel good sharing food with your community?”
Cordova elder Leona Olsen is one who looks forward to Senior Salmon day.
“This gift from the fishermen, it’s a real blessing to my husband George and myself and we are very thankful for it,” she said.
Olsen, originally from the village of Tatitlek, grew up eating salmon regularly and the annual giveaway now supplements her family’s access to salmon.
As long as there are elders interested in the gift of Copper River sockeye, fishermen and seafood processors will continue this long-standing tradition.
Christa Hoover is the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association’s executive director.