Friday, May 24, 2013

Copper River Opens

It is on.  The wild salmon season that is.  Some have been feasting on farm raised Atlantic salmon, the purists have been munching on frozen fish, and the die-hards have been suffering through withdrawal.  May 17th changed all of that with the opening of the Copper River salmon run, the unofficial (or official depending on who you ask) banner cutting, corner stone founding, breaking ground of the wild salmon season.  Other rivers in California and Oregon, such as the Klamath, have been open since May 1st, but it is usually the Copper River that gets everyone excited.

The first week wasn't so hot for the Copper River.  Bad weather and strong winds up to 40 knots reeked havoc on the 330 brave harvesters, who were fishing in the short opening window. About 82,000 sockeyes were delivered with 700 kings - that's a really low number of kings, down by half from last year.  The prices reflected the bad weather and low harvest.  Seafood sellers in Anchorage were reportedly selling whole sockeyes for $16.95/lb. and kings for $22.95/lb.  That's without factoring the loss you take after cutting fillets.

The second 12 hour opening on May 20th fared much better though, with 190,000 sockeyes and 1,400 kings showing up for that harvest.  What that means for us in D.C. is that prices won't be cheap, beware of any fresh wild salmon of good quality considered so, but they will be here and just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.  Copper River sockeye and kings are renown for having a great fat content, firm texture, and delicious flavor.  The river is a long one, so the salmon that have to travel back to their place of birth have to fatten up to make the long haul.  At the end of 2012 there were a lot of deals to be found at big brand grocery stores for sockeye salmon.  Be careful though, as you might see some great deals, don't be deceived.  Prices often reflect the freshness, handling practices, and overall quality of the product.  Not all fish get distributed and handled the same.  Look for glistening fillets, a melon fragrance, and a nice fat content.  It is also pertinent to ask whether they butcher the fish in-house or receive fillets that are pre-cut.  The fish that come in whole tend to be superior in my experience.

Now that the season is underway, be on the look out for sockeyes, kings, and cohos as more and more rivers and areas open.  In the not too distant future you will begin to see fish from areas such as Bristol Bay, Sitka, and the Columbia, Kenai, Cook, Fraser, Taku, Quinault, Nushagak rivers.  Copper River though will always hold a special place in the hearts of salmon lovers nationwide.  Maybe it's the mystique of being one of the first to open.  Maybe it's the special sight of all those fish returning every year, just like the generations before them did.  I think it has to do with our anxious anticipation.  Every year the fish return, is another year that we have a chance to make things better, for them and ourselves.     It's a chance to time travel 1,000 years into history and rewind the costs of humanity.  Every year is another chance at protecting an ancient resource and slowing our lives down to live a little closer to the land, with newly found appreciation, reverence, and awe.

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