Copper River salmon hits market, restaurants

Alaska Air Cargo delivers thousands of pounds of fresh fish to Seattle

Tito Marquez of 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage with a Copper River king salmon fillet fresh from the first opener, priced at $59.95 a pound, on Friday, May 17, 2019. Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times

Copper River salmon is back on the market and in restaurants from Anchorage to Seattle and beyond, in the wake of the first 12-hour opener of the Copper River fishery, which yielded an estimated 2,266 Chinooks and 19,683 sockeyes.

Hours before that first opener closed, an Ace Air Cargo aircraft with some 400 pounds of kings and 200 pounds of red salmon netted by crew aboard John D. Wiese’s drift gillnetter landed in Anchorage, where 10th & M Seafoods was ready and waiting to deliver some of those boxes to four restaurants in town.

“We were tired of Seattle getting all the first fish,” said Skip Winfree, owner of 10th & M Seafoods, as he admired a box of king salmon, each weighing upwards of 30 pounds.

Boxes of Copper River kings and sockeye salmon roll down the conveyer belt at Anchorage from the Ace Air Cargo flight from Cordova on the opening day of the Copper River salmon fishery.
Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times

Tired indeed! Three years ago, Winfree got together with Wiese and his partners at 60° North Seafoods in Cordova and came up with a plan to get those first opener fish to Anchorage before others delivered them to Seattle. He’s still at it, and planning to do it again next year.

Winfree arranged for a helicopter to pick up a brailer of fresh fish directly from a drift gillnetter on the fishing grounds and deliver it to the airport at Cordova. From there the fish were boxed and flown directly to Anchorage, to be served up in fine dining restaurants even before the 12-hour opener ended.

A box of Copper River sockeye salmon from 60 North Seafood in Cordova, purchased by 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage, delivered into Anchorage hours before the first opener closed on Thursday, May 16, 2019.
Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times

On the evening of May 16, the lucky diners were at Southside Bistro, Suite 100, Simon and Seaforts, and Jens. At Jens, executive chef and owner Nancy Alip had already posted on the menu for the evening’s guests a $65 fresh Copper River king salmon fillet grilled and served with Romesco sauce and roasted corn salsa.


Retail shoppers at 10th & M Seafoods had the option of Copper River king fillets at $59.95 a pound, headed and gutted kings at $42.95 a pound, Copper River sockeye fillets at $42.95 a pound and headed and gutted reds at $32.95 a pound.

An Ace Air Cargo flight carrying about 600 pounds of Copper River Chinook and sockeye salmon arrived in Anchorage on May 16, 2019, hours before the first opener closed in Cordova. Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times

Copper River Seafoods’ online store had two- and five-pound deals for eight-ounce king salmon portions starting at $70 a pound and sockeye portions starting at $50 a pound, with a teaser on the page encouraging shoppers to sign up for the company’s online newsletter because “Psst! There may be a sale going on right now.”

Online seafood purveyor FishEx, also in Anchorage, was offering Copper River King fillets for $86.95 a pound and Copper River sockeye portions or $46.95 a pound.

Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle was posting prices of $250 for a whole Copper River sockeye, $64.99 a pound for sockeye fillets, whole Copper River kings for $59.99 a pound and king fillets for $74.99 a pound.

Officials with Alaska Airlines said some 18,000 pounds of fresh Copper River salmon arrived on the Alaska Airlines Salmon-Thirty-Salmon jet, that touched down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday, May 17.  The sides of the jet are painted to look like a gigantic wild Alaska salmon.

By noon of that day Alaska Air Cargo anticipated it would be delivering some 50,000 pounds of Copper River salmon to the Lower 48, with more scheduled on later flights. All Alaska Air Cargo employees participate in an annual training program to handle perishables, instruction that ensures fresh seafood is handled with the utmost care and quality standards.

Preliminary harvest figures compiled by ADF&G through May 21 showed a total of 956 deliveries for the first two 12-hour Copper River fishery periods., including 4,064 Chinook, weighing in at 73,559 pounds, and 73,766 sockeyes, whose total weight came to 416,259 pounds.  Average weight for Chinooks was 18.7 pounds for the first period and 17.4 pounds for the second period. Sockeye weights averaged 5.5 pounds for the first period and 5.7 pounds for the second period.

Fishermen also harvested 122 chums weighing in at 798 pounds during the first opener and 1,643 chums weighing a total of 10,665 pounds for the second opener. Average weight of the chum was 6.5 pounds for both periods.

First opener Copper River salmon made a quick appearance in Costco stores in Anchorage on Friday, May 17, 2019, less than 24 hours after the first opener was complete.
Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times