Much like the annual release of beloved Beaujolais Nouveau wine, which the French restrict to the third Thursday of every November, the annual Copper River king salmon run is iconic, highly anticipated yearly event among foodies worldwide.
Every year, thousands of fish migrate from the ocean up Alaska’s Copper River to spawn, to the delight of scientists, anglers, nature lovers and salmon aficionados.
Here are ten fascinating facts about the Copper River king salmon run:
1. The Copper River is the Ironman race of the salmon world; one of the most challenging rivers in the world for the fish to navigate. The river is fast-moving and turbulent, with numerous rapids and waterfalls that can be deadly for fish.
2. The king, a.k.a. Chinook, salmon that make the journey up the Copper River are among the largest and most delicious salmon in the world. They can weigh up to 50 pounds. Gourmets prize them for their rich, flavorful flesh.
3. The Copper River salmon run is the first major salmon run of the year in Alaska. The fish typically begin their journey up the river in mid-May and continue through June. Copper River King fishing season opens this year, 2023, on May 15.
4. The king salmon that spawn in the Copper River are genetically distinct from other king salmon populations in Alaska. This unique genetic makeup is one of the reasons why chefs and seafood lovers worldwide prize Copper River king salmon.
5. What makes the salmon unique is their relative abundance of omega-3 rich fats. Because the river is so long and challenging, the fish have evolved to pack away extra fat during their time in the sea so they have enough “fuel’ to make the arduous journey upriver to spawn. This lends them the delicious, rich flavor so many crave.
6. The fish provide a critical source of food for numerous species, including bears, eagles, and other predatory animals. The salmon die after spawning, and the nutrients their bodies release into the river are vital to support the growth of plants and other aquatic life.
7. The Copper River king salmon run is a major economic driver. It supports jobs from commercial fishermen to seafood processors to tourism operators. In 2019, the Copper River king salmon fishery’s value was estimated at over $30 million.
8. The Copper River king salmon run is carefully managed to ensure the long-term health of the run. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game sets strict quotas on the number of fish that can be harvested each year, and carefully counts the “escapement” – the number of fish that get past fisherman and make it back upstream to spawn.
9. The Copper River Salmon Jam will take place this year on July 14-15 in the small town of Cordova. Music, fun-runs, food vendors and educational exhibits about salmon and the local culture. Find more information, including how to become a “spawnsor.”
10. Finally, the Copper River king salmon run is an important cultural tradition for the native peoples of Alaska. For thousands of years, these communities have relied on the salmon run as a source of food and spiritual nourishment. Today, many Alaskans continue to celebrate and honor the salmon run as a vital part of their heritage.