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Copper River salmon harvests double during 'second' season opener

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times
File photo: The first Copper River salmon lands in Anchorage. Loren Holmes photo

CORDOVA -- Commercial harvesters in the famed Copper River salmon fishery boosted their catch by 190,000 reds, 1,400 kings and 2,300 chums in the second 12-hour opener May 20, about double that of the inclement weather endured for the May 16 opener.

Choppy waters, with winds in some areas of the fishery in excess of 40 knots, and eight-foot waves compelled some fishermen to sit out the first opener, which had a harvest of 82,000 sockeye, 700 Chinook and 1,200 chum salmon, said biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Cordova.

Retail prices on the first opener were $16.95 a pound for whole headed and gutted sockeye and $22.95 a pound for whole headed and gutted kings at 10th and M Seafoods in Anchorage, and $21.95 for sockeye fillets and $35.95 for king fillets.

FishEx, an online seller of wild seafood in Anchorage, was offering Copper River king fillets for $38.95 and sockeye fillets for $29.95. Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle had not posted its prices yet, but was urging customers to call its toll free number with their inquiries on availability of the salmon.

"The market this year for Alaska king and sockeye is very strong," said Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods.

And a big attraction of the Copper River brand is the consumer interest in fishing families and communities in Alaska, he said.

"Retailers know their customers want to know where and who their food is coming from," he said. "For us, it's all about putting our fishermen partners front and center.

"Our key customers enjoy working with us to develop year-round programs featuring a variety of our products."

Copper River Seafoods, with facilities in Cordova, Anchorage, Dutch Harbor, Togiak and Kenai, is a professional food-manufacturing firm providing economic sustainability for Alaska fishermen and the state, he said. The company currently offers some 241 year-round and 500-plus seasonal jobs.

Along with its seafood products, Copper River Seafoods is promoting job opportunities for people who want to live and work in Alaska year round and grow with the company, Blake said.

With more than 1,200 skilled applicants from Alaska and the Lower 48 in its database, the company mas more than enough people for the summer salmon season, he said. One of the best recruitment tools has been word of mouth from current members of the team, he said.

Innovations at the company include a goal of full utilization of seafood resources and reduced energy consumption t processing facilities.

Meanwhile, the company's expanded line of frozen, ready to heat in the oven seafood products is performing very well, he said. "Our customers are experiencing an increased consumer demand for frozen meal solutions, and CRS is focused on meeting those needs with our frozen bag line," he said.

Looking ahead, Blake anticipates the company will continue to grow and compete internationally. "We are Alaska-owned, operating out of Alaska, using Alaska resources and creating Alaska job," he said. "For me, that's what it's all about."

This article originally appeared in The Cordova Times and is reprinted here with permission. Reach Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions at mbauman(at)thecordovatimes.com