Sometimes called the “Prime Rib of the Sea,” halibut is beloved for its firm texture, marble white flesh, and clean flavor. It is the perfect fish to cook when trying to convert people who say they don’t like fish because it tastes fishy. Fresh halibut is delicious whether prepared simply or topped with a range of sauces

Halibut from Copper River Seafoods is Vital Choice’s “Featured Catch” for April. Not only is its fish some of the highest quality halibut available, it’s part of a feel-good story that a few decades ago seemed destined for a very unhappy ending. 

Copper River Seafoods was started in Alaska by multi-generational fishermen facing an existential challenge: farmed salmon. If Alaska salmon producers wanted to compete, a new consumer-driven approach to quality, handling, and marketing would need to be taken. Scott Blake and his co-founders were up for the challenge.

Copper River Seafoods fisherman holding a large halibut.
Now that’s one heckuva halibut. Courtesy Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

Fighting to keep seafood wild

Proponents of wild Alaska seafood have fought back in recent years. They’ve been noting that Alaska fisheries adhere to strict federal laws, and double down on sustainability, which is even mandated in Alaska’s state constitution the only state with this extra measure — and that the textures and flavor of wild seafood are superior.

In 1996, Blake banded together with three other fishermen to create a company solely based in Alaska that would preserve not only their livelihoods and communities, but one of nature’s great gifts: wild seafood from Alaska. They developed a model of efficiency, overcoming this challenge to create a company that Blake, the CEO, proudly calls “vertically integrated” — a model centered around strong long-lasting relationships with community-based fishing families, primary processing facilities located in those communities, and added value manufacturing handled in house. This gives Copper River Seafoods the advantage of providing wild seafood with a similar efficiency to aquaculture companies creating farmed fish in a controlled environment.

Copper River Seafoods is highly selective about the vessels it partners with to pull its fish out of Alaska, prioritizing traditional fishing families with experience in multiple fisheries, including salmon, black cod, and other wild seafood from Alaska. 

copper river seafoods halibut in parchment
And this is one heckuva halibut, brought to you by none other than Copper River Seafoods.

Blake says the fisherman, which use hook and line fishing to catch their haul, have short trip limits during the March through November season that ensure that the fish get to their facilities quickly. 

“Whether frozen or fresh, the quality of our product is extremely high,” Blake says. “The difference between us and a lot of companies is that our fish goes from our fishermen to our primary processing facility within a couple of days.” 

From there, Copper River Seafoods’ Alaska halibut is processed and frozen at peak freshness to preserve the fresh Alaska seafood experience in a frozen form for customers. This guarantees consistency and quality. The calculated process aids in the steady employment for the Alaskan fishing communities, seafood sustainability and traceability.

Blake, a fourth-generation Alaska fisherman, has fulfilled the vision he had when he started the company to compete against farmed fish companies threatening to dominate the industry with lower prices and other advantages. 

In its first year, Copper River Seafoods fished and processed about 30,000 pounds of salmon and halibut. Gradually, word got out in Alaska’s fishing communities, and Copper River Seafoods expanded its primary processing operations to support the many vessels who began working with the young company throughout the state.

Over the past 28 years, Copper River Seafoods has grown from the original four vessels to thousands, all owned by individual fishermen and their families. (Blake’s twin 24-year-old sons fish for Copper River Seafoods, making them fifth-generation fishermen.) Blake estimates that the company’s shareholders, whether fishermen or investors, are 85% Alaskan, “which is very rare in this industry,” he notes, adding that many seafood jobs and resources have migrated to the Lower 48 over the past few decades. Impressively, Copper River Seafoods’ production has grown from that original 30,000 pounds to millions of pounds annually.

copper river seafoods halibut gear
A fisherman and his lines.

How Copper River Seafoods promotes sustainability

As Blake puts it, “We’re a food manufacturer, not a seafood processor,” meaning that while they do process seafood, it’s just one step in a journey from Alaska to your table. “We focus on quality, competitive pricing, sustainability, traceability, food safety, and direct access to the resource, and those six things are critical to long-term success and partnerships in the seafood business” — including the relationship with Vital Choice.

Closer to home, Blake says he’s very optimistic about the future of the seafood business in Alaska, adding that the Alaska-based company is focused on promoting Alaskan jobs, supporting the local communities, and making sure that “the younger generations have a future in the industry as well.”

Less than 30 years since it began operating, Copper River Seafoods is meeting its goals of providing consumers with some of the best halibut on the market — and helping to prove that wild seafood can be sustainable. 

Blake explains that the authorities have developed a quota system that sets up an “allowable harvest” for each season based on data from the previous seasons, and the individual vessels in Copper River’s fleet — which own the individual quotas — have maintained healthy harvests for the past five years.

 That’s good news for the fish, the fishermen, and for those of us who get to enjoy the best-tasting halibut.

Favorite halibut recipes

Halibut’s versatility lends itself to being transformed into tasty tostadas, used in a variety of classic European preparations, or even breaded and turned into fish sticks. Below are some more of our favorite halibut recipes.

Copper River Seafoods banner for Vital Choice white fish

Richard Martin is a writer, editor, and strategist who specializes in food, drink, and travel. He is the co-founder and editor of Appetito, the new online publication about Italian food and drink, and the co-author of the cookbook series Preserved, from publisher Hardie Grant NA.

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