Bellevue District meat and seafood operations specialist at Safeway Michael Saia, middle, and assistant meat and seafood sales manager at Safeway Jim Weldon, right, greet a first run Copper River king salmon on Tuesday in Seattle after Alaska Airlines delivered some 18,000 pounds of the prized fish, most of it sockeyes, to SeaTac Airport. Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

Calm, partially sunny, but chilly waters yielded a harvest of thousands of pounds of mostly sockeye salmon for the 12-hour opener of the Copper River commercial salmon fishery on Monday, and by Tuesday the arrival of that bounty had reached Seattle and Anchorage.

Industry officials reported the delivery of some 18,000 pounds of Copper River salmon at Seattle’s SeaTac Airport and another 14,000 pounds of fish at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, all of it heading for upscale restaurants and retail markets. Sockeyes were reported to be mostly averaging around six pounds each.

Exact preliminary harvest numbers were not immediately available, as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) was having some difficulty with its online reporting system, but such issues were expected to be cleared up by Wednesday, said Jeremy Botz, an ADF&G fisheries biologist in Cordova.

The crowd greeting the Alaska Airlines flight delivering the fresh fish for Trident Seafoods, OBI Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods to Seattle included a large number of employees of Trident Seafoods, which is marking its 50th anniversary in 2023. 

A smaller arrival ceremony was held at the Alaska Airlines Cargo Terminal in Anchorage by Copper River Seafoods, with deliveries heading for Simon & Seafort’s, Orso, Glacier Brewhouse, and Marx Brothers, all of whom planned to have Copper River entrees on their menus Wednesday evening.

David Hamburg, president and chief operations officer for Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics, collects a Copper River king salmon at SeaTac Airport in Seattle on Tuesday. Some 18,000 pounds of salmon from the first Copper River 12-hour opener were brought by Alaska Airlines directly from Cordova to Seattle. Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Fishing was relatively slow, said veteran Copper River harvester Bill Webber, who has been participating in this fishery for decades. With the anticipated slow fishery for the first 12-hour opener, and area river systems still fairly iced up, processors were initially paying $10 a pound for sockeyes and $15 a pound for kings, Webber said.


Bringing in those fish wasn’t easy: “A lot of the fleet was running all over the place trying to find them,” he said.

Webber himself said he caught a total of 31, not including the first two, which were grabbed out of his net by sea lions who also ripped a hole in the net.

Webber almost ended up with a lot more in his net, and an experience with two whales, the likes of which he said he’d never before encountered.

“After searching in shallow for some fish with no success, then running off shore to try it out there and once set out, we had two large whales playing around my net,” he wrote of the encounter on Facebook. “They knew it was there but decided to just swim up and down the length of my net, back and forth. They eventually swam around the boat and literally under the bow of the boat while the net was out. It was like they were hanging around and playing. Although scaring the hell out of me for fear of losing a brand-new net. One of them seemed 80 feet long. They would roll and lollygag around waving at me with their huge flipper and surfacing many times. At one point I thanked them for their avoidance of my net and for their visit. They then turned and headed west.”

Webber said the whales hung around twice while he picked up his net to get it out if their way. Then they followed him after a two-mile run westward as Webber tried to get away from them, giving Webber and his crew another show.

“Never had an experience with whales like this,” he said. “Glad I got to save my net.”

Correction: This story was updated on May 23 to accurately identify the people pictured in the feature photo.