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Getting the chance to wow visiting food writers with Cordova salmon

Kim Ryals | The Cordova Times
The first Copper River salmon of the season to land in Anchorage during 2012. Loren Holmes photo

CORDOVA -- It was a perfect perch. I was folded comfortably into a deck chair at The Reluctant Fisherman restaurant a while back, surrounded by blue skies and cotton candy whisps of white, watching the fleet turn the corner of the breakwater. As I thought about the consumers who seek out and purchase our salmon, I couldn't help but wish that they could see what I saw. Last week, for five days -- and over 65 hours -- a handful of lucky visitors did just that.

Each year the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association (CRPWSMA) puts on what is called a "media tour". Rather than attempting to reach 300 million consumers down south through the usual avenues of ads, a select group of food writers comes to Cordova, where they can see and experience the fishery first-hand. Having only recently joined the association, I didn't choose the Class of '13 -- but boy am I glad they chose Cordova.

The moment Ron Ruggless of Nation's Restaurant News, Rebecca and Fred Gerendasy of Cooking Up a Story, Tara Desmond of Crumbs on My Keyboard, Nick Davidson of Outside Magazine and Chef Nathan Lyon of Food Network fame stepped off Flight 66, I knew we were in for the tour of a lifetime. The easiest column I ever put together is a function of the feedback received via email this morning; this month I step aside and let the real writers do the work.

From the Gerendasys of Cooking Up a Story: "To have the opportunity to witness first-hand the Copper River Salmon ecosystem: fish out on the flats with a commercial gillnet fisherman, circumvent by boat a washed out bridge to see a calving glacier and watch where (and how) the sockeye are counted, and later in the day have a companion chef cook fresh fish at the Orca Adventure Lodge where we stayed, to interact with the generous Cordovan locals and fisheries experts, tour a local fish processing plant, and eat the most amazing (salmon) meals throughout our stay -- this 360-degree salmon run was both a dream, and absolutely, a lasting memory."

Chef Nathan Lyon, having both caught and cooked Copper River salmon during his stay, consistently posted photo and commentary on his Facebook page, quipping "sustainable seafood never tasted so delicious".

Ron Ruggless let us in on his long-standing love affair with our fish: "After eagerly looking forward to the arrival in Texas-region restaurants of Copper River Salmon for more than a dozen years, I greatly anticipated meeting the people and seeing the places that brought the fish to my plate each summer -- and both matched my high expectations. There's no more fulfilling venture than to discover where your food comes from and how it gets to you. There's palpable pride in the Copper River products, and rightfully so."

And Tara Desmond summed up her trip like this: "We experienced an unforgettable adventure with a timeless parting gift for sharing: the knowledge of Copper River's uniquely sustainable practices and edible treasure, wild Alaskan salmon."

Already, our encounter has potentially spawned a new partnership. A Monterey Aquarium Sustainable Seafood Ambassador, Chef Lyon, will be a guest at Sunset Magazine's "Savor the Central Coast", a premier food and wine event in San Luis Obispo this fall. We're working together to place Copper River salmon on stage before thousands of eventgoers.

The tweets, posts, videos, and blogs heard 'round the nation will act as continuous ripples of information emanating from this full-immersion tour of all things Copper River. Although every fisherman wasn't present each time our guests took a bite of Cordova, our media friends felt a friendship forged and a deep appreciation for what it takes to get your fish to their market.

It takes one of the largest, most unspoiled watersheds in the world to produce some of the best salmon available -- and 2,300 amazing people to make a community go-round. Thanks to 541 forward-thinking fishermen, five influential food writers will write, speak and dream about Cordova and Copper River salmon for years to come. The results can be hard to quantify, but somehow, it all adds up.

Kim Ryals, executive director of the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association, can be reached at kim(at)copperrivermarketing.org