Copper River Sockeye and Chinook Are Here! Cue the Chefs, Fundraisers, Media and Hungry Fans!

by Peggy Parker/

May 19, 2021

It is a rite of spring that stretches from the the Copper River Flats where the long-awaited salmon are pulled from the ocean to a long line-up for Tom Douglas’ Serious Take-Out in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, an exclusive seat at Shota Nakajima’s Taku on Capitol Hill, and lucky retail shops and restaurants that offer the first Alaska wild salmon of the season.

Alaska Airlines Salmon-thirty-Salmon, a Boeing 737 sporting a nose-to-tail image of a Chinook salmon, landed yesterday morning after a few hour delay due to strong headwinds on the flight from Cordova, Alaska, home to the Copper River fleet. In Seattle, members of the media, eager chefs and their assistants, members of Trident and OBI Seafood who donated the fish, Alaska Airline personnel, and exuberant fans watched the jet taxi and the red carpet roll out.

“Yes, the fish flew the entire trip in first class, in its box, covered in ice,” Alaska Airline’s pilots Tim Deal and Bill Jacobson said, as they carried the 37-pound Chinook down the red carpet to the first of only a few who wanted to ceremoniously kiss the first-fish.

The Alaska Airlines flight carried 17,000 pounds of Copper River salmon on that flight, part of nearly 55,000 pounds of salmon from Cordova delivered by by Alaska Air Cargo to Seattle on Tuesday.

These fish were served at an exclusive dinner at Taku Restaurant Tuesday night that raised more than $7,600 for We Got This Seattle for their support of Seattle’s front line workers during the pandemic. A second fundraiser will happen this Saturday by celebrity chef Tom Douglas to honor the Ballard Food Bank.

While seats at the Taku meal were auctioned off for more than $1,000 each, the Tom Douglas Fundraiser is available to the public for $100 per meal of Copper River sockeye at his famous pop-up Serious To Go in Ballard. The Taku meal was created by owner Shota Nakajima and four of Seattle’s best chefs: Byron Gomez of Top Chef Season 18, Matt Broussard, formerly of Tom Douglas restaurants, Zoi Antonitsas, formerly of Westward and Top Chef Season 4, and Luke Koplin formerly of noma in Copenhagen. OBI Seafoods donated the Chinook for that event.

“In partnership with Trident Seafoods, Alaska Airlines and the Copper River Marketing Association, we are proud to offer an exclusive Copper River salmon meal for pick up on Saturday, May 22nd, from 12pm-3pm. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Ballard Foodbank,” reads the announcement on Douglas’ Grilling for Good website. “Come see Tom on the dock! Enjoy your meal at our picnic tables or take your meal to go!”

“I love everything about Copper River salmon. I love the richness of its delicate flesh and flavor. Copper River salmon saved the importance of salmon, and wild fish in general, by increasing the value of the fish. It’s very short season makes it a true delicacy,” Douglas said.

By Tuesday evening, Copper River salmon was on the menu at Anthony’s and other restaurants, in the refrigerated case at Costco and smaller retail stores, and at @chefsroll in Portland. The promotions by the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association (CR/PSCMA) are covered on Instagram (#copperiversalmon) and other social media platforms.

“This is the epitome of seasonal eating. If it’s in your local seafood store, put it in your basket. If it’s on the menu, order it! This is a once-a-season treat that is well worth the wait. Bottom line, if you see it, buy it,” said Christa Hoover, Executive Director of CR/PWSMA.

Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game forecasts a catch of 13,000 Copper River kings, 652,000 Copper River sockeye, and 218,000 Copper River coho will be harvested this summer.

The largest of Alaska’s salmon runs is in Bristol Bay, where five river systems and 1,500 fishermen — compared to the Copper River’s Cordova fleet of 540 fishermen — is forecasted to produce about 35 million sockeye salmon this year. That season official opens two weeks after the Copper River, but fishing doesn’t start in earnest until July.

Until then, where can salmon lovers find Copper River Salmon? Hoover suggests the Copper River Fish Finder as a great place to start.

This year’s first salmon opener is in stark difference to last years’, Hoover said, when Cordova’s fleet was addressing the unknowns of a pandemic that could have been made much worse with another 1,000 processing workers and crewmen coming into the small town in south-central Alaska.

Despite those anxieties and tension, “Trident Seafoods … was key in keeping the community safe,” Hoover said. “Trident, [OBI Seafoods], and all the local processors went above and beyond the state mandates. They did what it took to make the community feel safe with quarantine and the bold move of a closed campus.

“This year has been different only in the sense that there is no tension in the community. The leadership demonstrated by our local processors garnered trust with the community,” she said.

Photo Credit: Alaska Airlines/Jane Gershovich