The Alaska Department of Fish & Game officially announced yesterday that the Copper River District will open for the season at 7:00 am on Thursday, May 17, a day later than last year. The fishing is permitted for just a twelve-hour period then will likely resume for another 12 hour period the following Thursday. Copper River fishermen are anticipating a robust sockeye harvest and a king run similar to 2011.
Copper River salmon are prized for their deep red (king and sockeye) or orange (coho) color, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid content and incomparable flavor. The wild salmon are caught from mid-May until early September during their trek up the Copper River from the Gulf of Alaska. After living in the gulf most of the year, the salmon are genetically programmed to return to their birthplace up the Copper River each year to spawn.
Alaska officials only permit commercial salmon fishing on the Copper River twice a week –typically Mondays and Thursdays–and then only during tightly restricted hours. They closely monitor a number of factors each season to determine those hours, including a sonar count of upriver salmon and reports from commercial fisherman about their catch the previous Monday or Thursday.
Right now, only a few hundred salmon a day are swimming up the Copper River. But the Department of Fish and Game predicts that number will jump to several thousand on May 17, which is why they chose that day to open the season.
Last year, commercial fisherman pulled in roughly 1.2 million sockeye salmon, 9,000 kings and 293,000 cohos this season, which made 2011 a banner year.
About 450 commercially licensed boats fish for salmon on the Copper River on opening day. More than 90 percent of the salmon caught early in the season are Sockeyes.
Most of the Kings will be caught from May 16 until mid-June. The sockeyes will run from now until mid-July, while the Cohos will continue to run until September.
Alaska Air Cargo flies the much of the season’s first catch of Copper River salmon from Cordova, Alaska, to Seattle; from there, the salmon is distributed across the U.S.
Expect to see CR prices in Dallas area stores hover around $30 a pound for the first couple of weeks of the season, then drop steadily after that. The best prices, though, are usually found at Costco, which last year sold Copper River cohos for $15.99 a pound the second week of the season, followed by price reductions to $8.99 a pound as the season progressed. As the Copper River run slows, Costco shifts to other Alaskan rivers and inlets, offering wild salmon from those regions at a similarly low price.
Meet the fleet:
Looking for the best way to cook the wild salmon? Many people like to sear it in pat of butter in a hot pan, or season it simply with salt and pepper then grill it.