Copper River salmon fishery opens May 17

Pike Place Fish market posts $174.93 apiece for first run sockeyes

Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods, gets a hand from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, holding the 40+ pound Copper River king salmon in May 2017. Photo by Margaret Bauman

Harvesters, processors and consumers alike are bracing for the start of the famed Copper River salmon fishery, which opens at 7 a.m. on May 17, amidst predicted rain showers and temperatures in the 40s.

Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle has posted prices of $54.99 a pound for whole Copper River kings, $174.93 for whole Copper River sockeyes, $74.99 a pound for Copper River king fillets and $34.99 a pound for Copper River sockeye fillets, while advising customers to call for availability.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game run forecast is for 19,000 to 66,000 Chinook salmon, which would be 4.4 percent below the recent 10-year average,

plus 1,264,000 to 2,208,000 sockeyes, which would be 16.5 percent below that 10-year average.

For the Gulkana Hatchery, the run forecast is for 108,000 to 188,000 red salmon, bringing total Copper River production to an estimated 1,391,000 to 2,376,000 fish.

For Coghill Lake the sockeye forecast is 95,000 to 407,000 fish, which would be 22 percent above average.

And while the pink salmon run in Prince William Sound is forecast at 310,000 to 13,151,000 fish, or 20.7 percent below the 10-year average, the chum salmon forecast is for 189,000 to 594,000 fish, or 83.6 percent above average.

Aficionados of first run Copper River salmon are already calling in their orders in Anchorage to 10th & M Seafoods, which is waiting to hear what their price will be and has not posted retail prices yet. The popular seafood firm is anticipating many more phone calls in the days before the fishery opens.

The arrival of the first Copper River salmon in Seattle will be celebrated on the Sea-Tac Airport tarmac with celebrity chefs from Seattle competing to prepare a gourmet dish from a filleted king salmon. The event is hosted by Alaska Airlines, and participating processors include Copper River Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Trident Seafoods.

Meanwhile, in Anchorage, the first shipment of Copper River salmon is expected on May 18, and on May 19, Copper River Seafoods is planning a family friendly event, at $15 per person, for 300 people at the 49th State Brewery. Five chefs, representing one restaurant in Healy and four in Anchorage, will prepare sample dishes of Copper River sockeye salmon.

“We’re all feeling very optimistic,” said Marty Weiser, a spokesman for Copper River Seafoods. “We are due for a good size sockeye run on the flats.”

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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.