Copper River salmon sales are hot

Retail prices have started their anticipated drop, with steady demand for the fresh fish

From gourmet restaurant entrees to Costco roadshows, Alaska is rolling out the red carpet again for Copper River salmon.

Copper River sockeye entrees, with rice pilaf and grilled asparagus, were on the menu in late May at the Glacier Brewhouse, in downtown Anchorage, for $34.95, and the 49th Street Brewing Co., in the midst of its Crab Fest, featured a sockeye stuffed with crab entree, plus mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables, for $32.99.

Costco stores in Anchorage were offering sockeye fillets for $14.99 a pound, and king fillets, when available, for $25.99 a pound, plus whole sockeyes for $9.99 a pound during a seafood roadshow the first weekend of June.

At 10th & M Seafoods, also in downtown Anchorage, prices for Copper River salmon prices dropped from first run costs of $59.95 a pound for kings and $38.95 a pound for sockeyes to $49.95 and $31.69 respectively.  Copper River reds garnered the most customer demand, with orders the first week averaging two pounds, said Tito Marquez, at the company’s downtown retail shop.

FishEx, an Anchorage online purveyor of seafood, was posting $59.95 a pound for Copper River Chinook fillets, and $39.95 for Copper River red fillets.

At Seattle’s famed Pike Place Fish Market, Copper River salmon were also a hot item, with king fillets at $44.99 a pound, down from first opener prices of $74.99 a pound, and whole Copper River king prices fell from $55.99 a pound to $29.99 a pound.  Pike’s had Copper River red fillets for $29.99 a pound, down from $47.99 a pound, and whole Copper River sockeyes for $79.96, down from $143.96.

Meanwhile, in the fishery itself, some 450 drift gillnetters were bringing in the fish, making a total of 1,780 deliveries for the first four periods.

Through May 29, the catch of 6,868 kings weighed an average of about 20 pounds, while the catch of 164,443 reds were weighing in at 5.4 pounds.

Due to conservation concerns for king salmon, the Copper River commercial fishery has been open for less fishing time than a year ago.  The first opener, under normal circumstances, would have been on May 15 this year, but was cancelled. That said, the harvest of kings has been pretty similar to a year ago, said Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management biologist at Cordova for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The cumulative Chinook harvest of nearly 7,000 fish, keeping in mind the delayed first opener, compared with about 8,400 kings harvested by the same time a year ago, he said.

This year’s king harvest to date exceeds the forecast, and is indicative of what state biologists are now hoping will be a larger run.

The first and second openers, on May 18 and May 22, were 12 hours each. The third opener, on May 25, was for nine hours and the fourth opener, on May 29, for 10 hours.

Meanwhile the stormy weather challenging fishermen during the first few openers had given way by May 30 to warmer, sunny weather with light breezes.

In the Bering River District, the opening day harvest on May 18 totaled 19 deliveries, including 31 kings and 2,353 sockeyes.  The Coghill, Eshamy and Montague districts opened on June 1.

Bristol Bay salmon fisheries open in early June, with big harvests anticipated to begin in early July. In Cook Inlet, the northern district opened on May 29, the Kamishak Bay district opened on June 1 and the Central district opens on June 19.

ADF&G is posting daily updates on the harvest at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyareapws.harvestbydistrict

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.