At 7am on Thursday, May 16th, fishermen will reel their nets into the water to officially kick off the 2013 Copper River salmon season. Each year, salmon lovers worldwide anticipate the first harvest of Copper River kings and sockeyes and the first tastes of fresh wild Alaska salmon.
Thursday’s 12-hour fishing period will send the first load of salmon to celebrations in Seattle and points across the United States. There are predictions for a strong sockeye harvest this year, which marks the 30th anniversary of when the first Copper River king salmon were shipped fresh to the Seattle market.
Back in 1983 Seattle’s seafood guru, Jon Rowley, helped bring this deliciously rich and wild fresh salmon to the Lower 48 market. Previously, the salmon was canned or a small amount was frozen for export to Japan. Rowley knew that the oil-rich salmon was genetically superior and eminently marketable. He worked directly with fishermen to improve the quality and handling and to bring the salmon to his Seattle restaurant clients immediately after it was caught.
Careful handling of the fish and directed marketing were at the cornerstone of Rowley’s Copper River groundbreaking initiative thirty years ago. Rowley explains, “I brought 400 pounds of fresh top-quality Copper River kings to Seattle,” Rowley says, “and they went to four restaurants. Beforehand, I told the restaurants that they were going to have the best salmon in the world. That got their attention. When I personally delivered the fish and showed them the fat bellies and how the orange oil comes off on your hands,they got all excited. They put the fish on the menu. The waiters kept coming back to the kitchen reporting that customers were saying it was the best fish they had ever eaten. The rest is history.”
Over the past three decades, several organizations and co-op groups have shared the Copper River story with consumers, retailers, and restaurants. Most recently, the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association has carried the Copper River torch with executive director Beth Poole at the helm. Poole will be stepping down from the position next month, passing the reigns to Kim Ryals, who comes to CRPWSMA from "Field and Fin," a consulting group she started to help nonprofits achieve their missions. Prior to Field and Fin, Kim founded “From Farm to Table,” an agri-tourism outfit in California Wine Country, where she promoted family-produced specialty foods nationwide. Before marketing food, Kim was a national staffer for Trout Unlimited in Washington, DC, where she worked on America’s first National Fish Habitat Partnership.
Poole says, “I have worked with many chefs, retailers, processors, and fishermen who are incredibly enthusiastic and appreciative of the wild and rich salmon from our region. I know that Kim is excited to come to Cordova to help fishermen share their stories and their salmon with the rest of the world. She’s going to do a great job.”
After Thursday’s inaugural opener, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game will make announcements about future openings, which typically take place starting on Monday and Thursday mornings.