P J Lee, who works for the Camtu Cannery, with a king salmon harvested in the Copper River salmon opener on May 16. Photo by Nicole Baker

In Cordova the first 12-hour opener of the Copper River commercial salmon fishery, with 376 deliveries, yielded a catch of nearly 43,000 sockeye salmon, 1,108 Chinook, 247 chum, and two cohos to processors. The second opener, with 400 deliveries, brought in another 51,994 sockeye, 1,284 Chinook, 2,182 chum, and 62 coho salmon. As of May 21, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Cordova office said that the overall catch stood at 93,851 sockeye, 2,392 Chinook, 2,433 chum, and 64 coho salmon. 

Processors were offering $7 a pound for sockeyes and $16 a pound for kings. 

Meanwhile, a chance to sample the first Copper River sockeye salmon drew some 400 seafood fans to Anchorage ski slopes on Saturday, May 18, where they dined on appetizers prepared by top chefs and bid in an auction that raised $8,350 for the Make A Wish Foundation. 

They also voted to give the People’s Choice award for best treats to Chefs Buffy & Brady Hayden of Fish On! Camp Grill, for their Sockeye Slugger, a bratwurst comprised of over 90% fresh salmon with a pineapple rhubarb habanero mustard topping. 

A new twist in Copper River Seafoods’ annual celebration of the first fish was to make it more family focused and for the first time hold it outdoors at the Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage.   

Participants sampled a variety of salmon creations prepared by chefs Kaylah Thomas of Ohmage, a private caterer; Ryan Erickson and Ken Ubante of Simon and Seafort’s; Rachel Hull of Bear Tooth; Eric Dubay and Budda Dev Bev of Orso and Glacier Brewhouse; and Todd Podhorny of Forty Ninth State Brewing. Along with the salmon tastes, guests were given a drink pass and got to vote on the People’s Choice award. 


The event included an auction to raise money for the Make A Wish Foundation, with Bryan Kimball, executive vice president of Copper River Seafoods, as auctioneer.   

A party of four to come aboard TOTE, a working cargo ship, at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage for lunch in the Officer’s Mess Hall drew a winning bid of $1,150.   

Two round trip tickets to go anywhere on Alaska Airlines, including a trip to Kona, Hawaii, with a sport fishing trip about the vessel Last Chance with Captain Russ, garnered a $4,400 bid. 

The combination of a Traeger Pro Grill and starter bundle from Allen and Peterson in Anchorage, plus a whole fresh Copper River king salmon, was netted with a bid of $2,800. 

Jeremy Botz, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cordova, said the first period harvest exceeded expectations. There was still a lot of ice in the rivers and water levels are low for this time of year, so there has been only limited sonar deployment on the north bank so far, with no fish observed, he said. 

Botz said an estimated 325 to 350 drift gillnetters were fishing in the Copper River District, the only district opened to date. The sockeyes are averaging 5.5-6 pounds per fish and kings 14 pounds each. Sockeye sizes are about the same as the 10-year average, while kings are below the 10-year average, he said. 

Upscale Anchorage restaurant Simon and Seafort’s Saloon & Grill was leading area restaurants celebrating the season with an entrée of fresh Copper River sockeye, complete with jasmine rice and market vegetables, priced at $52. 

Competitive retail prices for the coveted sockeye fillets ranged from $59.95 a pound at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle and FishEx, an online Anchorage retailor, to $23.99 a pound at Costco stores in Anchorage, where sales were brisk. Up until the Copper River fishery opened on May 16, Costco was offering refreshed frozen fillets of Alaska wild sockeyes for $9.99 a pound.