On the Menu: Copper River Salmon

Every year folks around here eagerly await Copper River salmon season. This article in today’s newspaper announces the arrival of thousands of pounds of ceremonial fish, the first fish of the Copper River salmon season, in Seattle via an Alaska Airlines jet. According to television news reports, true devotees gladly pay upwards of $100 a pound to score some of this precious cargo. Considered by many to be the highest quality salmon available, Copper River salmon feature bright red flesh with a rich taste and buttery consistency.

The Copper River, nearly 300 miles (470 km) long, runs through south-central Alaska into the Gulf of Alaska. Ranked by water output, it is the 10th-largest river in the United States. Both the river and the Copper Glacier from which it arises take their names from nearby former copper mines.

Because the Copper River is a fast-moving, glacial river, salmon have to store up a lot of oil and fat content to make the journey upstream. This high oil and fat content gives the salmon their characteristic color and flavor.

Health experts recommend eating salmon because it’s high in protein and essential nutrients but low in saturated fat. Another benefit is its high concentration of omega–3 fatty acids, which have been reported to contribute to heart health, reduce inflammatory diseases, and perhaps prevent cancer.

Fishing boats catch three kinds of wild salmon from the Copper River: coho, sockeye, and king, the largest. The amount of fish caught each year varies, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that more than 1.8 million salmon were caught in 2013.

Another article from our local newspaper, The News Tribune, describes the arrival of the flown-in salmon at its destination in the South Puget Sound area, Northern Fish Co., which is not far from where we live.

“We got 2,000 pounds today and more tomorrow,” said fourth-generation Northern Fish owner John Swanes.

According to Swanes, “Early Copper River fish is the best, with a high oil content.”

While some of the Copper River salmon will be sold at the company’s two retail stores in Tacoma, most of it will be sold to wholesale customers, including local independent seafood and grocery outlets, and higher-end restaurants.

At the retail level, whole Copper River kings will be selling for $29.95 per pound, with filets priced at $42.95. Whole sockeyes will be offered at $23.95 and filets at $29.95 per pound. All initial fish are net-caught in the deep-water open ocean near the mouth of the Copper River.

The Copper River salmon season usually lasts from May through September.

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