Today marks the official opening of Alaska’s salmon season with catches of kings and sockeyes at the Copper River.
Normally, the hub of Cordova would be buzzing but most people were keeping to themselves as they readied their boats. And the usual media hype showing the first fish being flown to Seattle by Alaska Airlines would include lots of fanfare and cooking competitions on the tarmac.
But COVID has put the brakes on that. There might be a photo opp, but that’s about it, airline spokesman Tim Thompson told Alaska Public Media.
And the closure of high end restaurants, where most diners would be enjoying the first famous fish, really cuts into sales.
John Sundstrom, owner of the fine dining restaurant Lark in Seattle, says chances of buying high priced Copper River salmon are low right now as he’s switched to take out.
“I’d have to be charging them more like $80 or $90 for a takeout meal, per person,” Sundstrom said, “and that’s hard for me to know if people would do it in this climate.”
The loss of the lucrative restaurant trade has fisherman Mike Webber worried. His Webber Wild Seafood sells directly to those customers.
“We are attempting to reach out to more individuals this year. The restaurants have been a great, stable market for us, where they’re ordering fish once or twice a week from us. And they’re ordering fish for the winter as well. I’m definitely worried that our market is going to be impacted due to the virus.”
Other early reports show good interest at retail and in direct sales.
Last year the starting prices for the first opener at Copper River set records – prices topped $10 a pound for sockeyes and $14 for king salmon. Today’s 12 hour fishery will give some indication of what
Alaska’s salmon market is in for this summer. Economist Garrett Evridge with the McDowell Group says it’s just one piece of an ongoing puzzle.
“Copper River will be one piece of the puzzle. But I imagine the entire season we will be looking for new information, and there will be ups and downs.”
The first Copper River salmon opener runs today from 8am to 8pm.