Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods, at a celebration in Anchorage marking arrival of the 2016 season opener. File photo by Margaret Bauman/For The Cordova Times

In a year when the water was warmer and the fish running in a different pattern, the famed wild sockeye salmon run came home once again with gusto, and now Bristol Bay harvesters are honing in on establishing a brand of their own.

To that end, they are partnering with one who’s been there, done that — Copper River Seafoods — and already marketing some high quality fresh fish.

“They’ve done a great job beginning to develop a strong platform for the Bristol Bay Brand,” says Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods, who is working with the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association to establish recognition of the brand.

“We took the branding concept to our customers and successfully executed bydoing what we do best: supplying the highest quality fresh fish that matches the image the fishermen — and the RSDA — are working so hard to achieve. The fresh programs we built this year with our customers have momentum and see potential to grow them in 2017,” he said.

Copper River Seafoods is one of several processors that the harvesters association hopes to partner with in promoting the Bristol Bay brand, said Mike Friccero, president of the BBRSDA, and veteran harvester from Kodiak. “We are trying to represent harvesters in a manner that increases the value of the fish.

“It is happening. We have to tell our story,” he said.

“We just want people to know what they are eating,” he said. “We are the industry association for the harvesters of Bristol Bay salmon. Nobody but us has access to this resource, and the abundance and quality is undeniable.”

“We are creating a whole new face for Bristol Bay,” said Becky Marcello, executive director of the BBRSDA, who is overseeing a pilot project this fall in Boulder, CO., to demonstrate to retailers and restaurants in that relatively young, affluent and health conscious city the quality and sustainability of Bristol Bay salmon.

“Boulder is a good choice,” said Kate Consenstine, of Rising Tide Communications, the Anchorage marketing and public relations firm chosen to promote the brand.

The goal is to prove to retailers and processors that with quality branding and control of quality that people will be interested in sockeye fillets year round, said Consenstine, who grew up picking fish at her family set-net site in Kodiak.

Meanwhile, with the Bristol Bay run has exceeded harvest expectations, helping to offset shortfalls in other regions of Alaska. “The sockeye we purchased from fishermen this year were high quality, and we sold the majority of our catch fresh to customers in the domestic market,” said Blake.

Copper River Seafoods established a presence in Bristol Bay last year, with the acquisition of a salmon processing facility and associated assets at Naknek.

“When we expanded our Bristol Bay operations by purchasing the Naknek plant, we had the same long-term, brand building in mind as we did wth the Copper River,” he said. “As the world’s largest wild sockeye run, Bristol Bay sockeye has a compelling unique story and we recognize the fishermen of the region are making great strides to improve the quality and enhance the perception of this resource.”

“Our fleet is comprised of many local Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans from other areas of the state,” Blake said. “With the fishing slowing down many processors are shutting down, but as long as our fishermen want to keep fishing, we’ll support them by continuing to process their fish, likely into mid-August.”