Wine and Food Pairing

Copper River Salmon Season: What You Need To Know

Fisherperson holding fresh-caught copper river salmon in boat
People might think salmon is just salmon. That Atlantic farm-raised, wild Pacific Northwest and all the others swim in the same pond, metaphorically speaking. But a rock star has bubbled up: Copper River salmon from Alaska.

As “wild-caught” becomes an oft-used buzzword, the unique and single-sourced – not to mention fat and happy – Copper River salmon is now the crème de la crème of these pink-fleshed fish. Each May, around the 15th, the red carpets are rolled out at locations across the Pacific Northwest, honoring the arrival of the first Copper River salmon of the season. Reporters alight, snapping pictures, and filling up social media feeds as this prized fish is celebrated. It’s quite the spectacle.

Why, you might ask? It’s all about flavor. Like so many gourmet ingredients foodies and chefs clamor for (usually with good reason), this salmon is special. Its remarkable flavor comes from the salmon’s journey. As the fish makes its way up Alaska’s Copper River – a class II-III rapids fed by glaciers – it must muscle its way from open water and swim up a rugged 300 miles to spawn. Before embarking on this journey, these wily fish pack on fat and extra oils as energy stores. This is why the meat offers up a rich, unctuous flavor and luscious, buttery texture unlike others. Because of its portliness, Copper River salmon also boast higher-than-average omega-3 fatty acids. Chefs swear by it, even though the price can be hefty — $28 to $45 per pound. Limited season + limited supply = higher prices.

The Copper River season is only six weeks long for the prized King or Chinook salmon, with Sockeye through July and the Coho season lasts until September. Mid-May, local, approved fishermen flood the Alaskan fishing town of Cordova at the mouth of the river to fill their nets with this sublimely delicious specimen. Waiting at the other end of the salmon’s voyage are eager chefs and fishmongers who greet planes as they arrive from Cordova into Seattle, the main hub where the fish are then shipped out across the country. It’s like Santa bringing a foodie Christmas for all.

This celebrity fish doesn’t need sauce or additives – salt, pepper and maybe garlic and you’re good to go. And, of course, a bottle of Pinot Noir – salmon’s best wine friend. Want to score more information about Copper River salmon? Visit or its very popular Instagram and Facebook feeds.

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