It’s a rite of passage between the icy waters of Alaska and the tarmac of Seattle’s SeaTac Airport (SEA). Every year, the adult king and sockeye salmon return to the pristine waters of Alaska’s Copper River in late spring, and Alaska Airlines prepares to fly the first load of this fresh, highly prized seafood delicacy from the boat crews of Cordova, Alaska, to Seattle, where is it transshipped to the “lower 48” states – and the world.
In other words, it’s time for summer to begin in the Pacific Northwest.
At dawn this morning, outside its cool-chain facility, Alaska Airlines hosted its annual red-carpet welcome for the Copper River salmon at SEA. About 18,000 pounds of fresh fish arrived in the belly of the early-morning flight, in a specially designed 737 passenger aircraft with a salmon-themed livery – and yes, it’s nicknamed the “salmon-thirty-salmon.”
The forecast for the rest of the “Copper River kings” this year is expected to be more abundant than the runs of the last few years, and the sockeye salmon projections are “holding steady,” said Christa Hoover, executive director of the Copper River Marketing Association. “We hope to see 55,000 king salmon and close to 1.5 million sockeye return to the Copper River this season,” she said. And Alaska Airlines Cargo will bring most of it to SEA, where it will be sent to the world’s top restaurants, including WildFin American Grill in Tacoma, Wash. (pictured).
“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,” Hoover said. “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 fish harvesters of Cordova, this moment is what they’ve been waiting for all year. To learn more about fisherman Darin Gilman’s life with the Alaska salmon runs, passed down from his father, Shawn Gilman, check out this video below: