Copper River salmon 2018: Alaska brings first fish to Seattle

This week marks the official start of the 2018 Copper River King Salmon season in Cordova, Alaska. For many people, the kick-off of Copper River salmon season means that summer is officially here.

As part of the tradition to celebrate the first catch, Alaska Airlines hosted the 9th annual Copper Chef Cook-off on Friday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Photos by Ingrid Barrentine/Alaska Airlines

As part of this tradition, Alaska Airlines invited three local chefs to face-off in a culinary competition to create the best salmon recipe possible. This year’s participants are John Sundstrom, chef-owner, Lark, Slab Sandwiches + Pie, Southpaw; Paul Duncan, executive chef, Ray’s Boathouse; and Chris Bryant, executive chef, WildFin American Grill. The chefs were given 30 minutes to prepare and present their dishes to a group of salmon enthusiasts, who voted for the winner: Chris Bryant from WildFin. (See all of their Copper River salmon recipes.)

A spotlight on the people who catch your fish

The fish arrives fresh from Cordova, Alaska.

“Cordova is off the road system here in Alaska, and we rely heavily on the passenger and cargo services that Alaska Airlines provides year round,” said Christa Hoover, executive director of the Copper River Marketing Association. “For nearly a decade, Alaska Airlines has flown the first Copper River salmon of the season to Seattle and beyond. In just a matter of hours, Copper River salmon is transported from the fisherman to dinner tables across the country.”

For the fishermen of Cordova, this moment is what they’ve been waiting for all year.

“There’s something about the thrill of fishing, and sharing the catch that draws you back, year after year,” said Darrin Gilman, a young Cordova fisherman.

“I am an Alaskan fisherman”: Thea Thomas

Reflecting on her decades-long career as one of Cordova, Alaska’s fishermen, Thea Thomas recalls the best advice she ever received came from her father.

He said, “The most important thing is figuring out what you want to do. Don’t worry about the money, just make sure this is really what you want to do.”

Her father’s guidance was shared on the cusp of Thea’s decision to move to Alaska to catch some of the world’s most-coveted fish, Copper River King Salmon. Decades later, Thea is still in love with her job and doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon.

“I am an Alaskan fisherman”: The Gilman family

Darrin started fishing with his father, Shawn Gilman, when he was only 5 years old. Growing up and watching his dad instilled a sense of pride in Darrin that led him on a path to work alongside his father at the same fishery today.

“It’s been wonderful to watch my son and the next generation of fishermen come up, “said Shawn Gilman. “I hope that they can pass our traditions and our fishery on in as good of shape as my generation was able to do for them.”

While neither man would say it’s easy work – acting as their own boat mechanics, net menders, and salmon trackers – the Gilmans and other Cordova fishermen are true artisans of their craft. Being a fisherman is a job, but each person who chooses this profession knows that their impact goes far beyond collecting a paycheck. They take pride in feeding people good, healthy food while observing sustainable fishing practices.

“I am an Alaskan fisherman”: The Honkola family

“To be a fisherman, you have to be dedicated, patient, and most importantly, passionate about sustainability,” said James Honkola, a Cordova fisherman.

The Honkola’s and others are dedicated to the preservation of salmon and their ecosystem, recognizing that their work today impacts what others can enjoy in the future.