Upscale seafood markets and restaurants in Alaska and around the country are getting ready to go wild to buy up and cook wild Copper River red and king salmon in a tasty rite of spring.
The first 12-hour commercial fishing opener begins at 7 a.m. Thursday, just 41 hours after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened the Copper River district for a seven-hour subsistence fishing opening.
As usual, pomp and circumstance are planned for the arrival of the first reds and kings, including a media event in Seattle, marking the first delivery of the popular fresh salmon to gourmet restaurants around town.
Alaska fisheries biologists estimate the total harvest will reach 1.2 million Copper River reds and 27,000 kings.
Anticipation aside, nobody knows what the first two or three commercial openings will yield. Much depends on weather, which has proven absolutely miserable during some cold and stormy years while other seasons have started strong.
Here's what fishermen harvested a year ago during the May 16 opener:
• 1,658 king salmon, weighing a total of 33,494 pounds;
• 101,957 reds, weighing 620,876 pounds;
• 6,210 chums weighing 41,449 pounds.
Additional openings followed on May 19 and May 23, 2011.
Seafood connoisseurs at high-end restaurants in Anchorage or the Lower 48 are happy to shell out $39 or more for those early-run Copper River salmon entrees, and high-end seafood markets take advance orders from customers who want them at any price.
Typically, there's more demand than fish, which drives the prices skyward.
Actually, troll and drift gillnet fishing for king salmon has been under way on the Taku and Stikine rivers in Southeast Alaska since May 7. But the Copper River represents the first run big salmon fishery of the spring in Alaska. Seafood connoisseurs nationwide recognize the Copper River name.
The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association has put together a Facebook page for Outside residents looking to find Copper River salmon.