Alaska's Copper River King Salmon

Why People Love Them and Where They Are Caught

Pike Place Market
••• Stephen Saks/Getty Images

Each year from mid-May to mid-June, salmon migrate up and down the Copper River in Alaska where fishermen catch and sell them to restaurants and markets all around the United States, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

Northwest seafood lovers enjoy the arrival of this particular species so much, in fact, that they have turned the Copper River king salmon season into an annual celebration. ​Seattle restaurateurs and markets compete to be the first to get an ice-packed shipment of the fresh salmon, and area newspapers fill with advertisements announcing availability at fine dining establishments.

The Copper River flows through the state of Alaska with strong currents that cut through the St. Elias Wrangell and Chugach Mountains. Almost 300 miles in length, this wild, glacier-fed river empties into Prince William Sound at the town of Cordova, but most of the salmon are caught midway through their journey downstream.

Why People Love Copper River King Salmon

Salmon that originate in the pristine waters of Alaska's Copper River are challenged by its length and its strong, chill rapids. Consequently, Copper River salmon are strong, robust creatures with a healthy store of natural oils and body fat to get them and from their breeding grounds at the  These qualities make the salmon among the richest, tastiest fish in the world.

Fortunately, fatty Copper River king salmon is good for you, as it is loaded with Omega-3 oils, which are recommended by the American Heart Association. Your heart is not the only part of your body that benefits from salmon consumption: studies have found that fish oil can help combat such ailments as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, and migraines.

However, the real reason people make a big deal about this particular species of salmon is that a group of Alaska fisherman and a business consultant named Jon Rowley got together in the early 1980s and devised a marketing campaign to feature these fish for higher prices domestically in Seattle than they had been by shipping internationally to Japan.

The Copper River: Breeding Ground for King Salmon

Over two million salmon use the Copper River watershed to spawn their young each year, and fishing businesses send out fishermen to catch the highly popular king salmon breed during their mating season from May through June. Afterwards, the fisheries along the river quickly process and ship them out to local markets and restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.

Although game fishing is allowed along the river all year, the easiest way to get your hands on a Copper River king salmon is to purchase one at a local market or order one at a restaurant offering one in a seasonal meal.

If you do happen to purchase one while visiting the state or catch one while you're fishing on the Copper River, both the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association offer recipes and resources for preparing this famous fish.