Alaska Copper River Salmon Season Opens Thursday, May 13
If you’re a wild salmon fan–especially the first-of-the-season Copper River Kings–circle next week on your calendar.
“It’s going to be a good year for Copper River Salmon,” reports Glenn Hollowell, Area Management Biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who had just returned from a snowy trek down to the Copper River to examine a spot he and his team are going to install a fish-counting sonar.
While Holloway said the river is still icy and frozen in parts, he’s forecasting about 1.3 million salmon will be harvested during their trek up the Copper River from the Gulf of Alaska from May 13 until early September. 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’s Copper River District will open for the commercial fishinig season at 7 a.m. on Thursday, May 13, for a twelve-hour period, then remain closed until the following Monday to prevent overfishing.
To legally catch the salmon, commercial fishermen must possess one of the 535 commercial permits issued this year. On opening day, Hollowell expects 450 commercial boats–each possessing one of those permits–to be fishing for salmon on the Copper River. “Ninety
percent of all the salmon caught will probably be sockeyes,” Holloway said, but the number of Kings spotted on the river has been increasing. A little more than a week before the season opens, only a few hundred salmon a day have been swimming up the Copper River.
The Department of Fish and Game is forecasting that number to jump to several thousand on May 13, which is why they chose that day to open the season.
Most of the Kings will be caught from May 13 until mid-June. The sockeyes will run from May 13 until late July, while the Cohos will continue to run until September.
The state of Alaska only permits commercial salmon fishing on the Copper River twice a week –Mondays and Thursdays–and then only during tightly restricted hours. Hollowell says he and his staff closely monitor a number of factors to determine those hours, including a sonar count of upriver salmon and reports from commercial fisherman about their catch the previous Monday or Thursday.
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.
“You should see the first fish in the market by Saturday, May 15th” says Beth Poole, Executive Director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association, the Alaska trade group that promotes Copper River salmon. Jon Alexis of TJ’s Seafood Market says he expects his first shipment to arrive for sale Monday, May 17. Costco expects to begin receiving their shipment by May 22. Naturally, Central Market and Whole Foods will also be selling the wild salmon.
What’s Poole’s favorite way to cook fresh Copper River salmon?
“A little salt and pepper on the grill and you cant go wrong. That’s what we’ll be doing with our first catch.”
How about you?