Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Visit to Cordova, Alaska - Home of Copper River Salmon

This month I had the honor and pleasure to visit Cordova, Alaska, home of my favorite wild salmon, Copper River Salmon (king, sockeye and coho). I've been eating and posting about Copper River Salmon for years now, so imagine how excited I was to be invited to visit Cordova as a guest of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association to learn all about how it is caught, handled and processed and to get to see first hand all that is involved at getting my beloved Copper River Salmon from Cordova to my dinner table here in Atlanta. There's so much more involved than I could have ever imagined.

Now, a little bit about Cordova. Cordova is a quaint small fishing port town located on the southeastern shores of Prince William Sound. It boasts a year round population of 2,200. This number swells to approximately 3,500 residents from May through September when fishermen that live in other places (Washington, Oregon, etc.) leave their hometowns to fish for Copper River Salmon. There are only 531 permits/licenses available to fish for Copper River Salmon and they aren't cheap. The current cost for a permit to fish is $231,000; and that doesn't include the cost of your boat, equipment, insurance, etc. It can cost upwards of $400,000 just to have the privilege to fish for Copper River Salmon! Quite mind boggling, isn't it? As a commercial fisherman, you have to love to fish because it's not an easy job. The fishermen go out for weeks at a time over the almost 5-month long fishing season from May through September. They are away from their families and children for long periods of time. Many have been fishing for more than 40 years and are 3rd and 4th generation fishermen. They love what they do; it's in their blood.

I found the people of Cordova to be warm, friendly and welcoming as well as extremely passionate about what they do (please see special thanks at the end of this post). They are independent people that hunt and fish to feed their own families. While most of us simply run to the grocery store to purchase food to feed our families; Cordovans generally hunt, fish and gather their own, such as deer, moose, elk, salmon, halibut, cod or wild berries and mushrooms of all varieties that grow wild in abundance. I was very impressed that given their extremely remote location which can only be reached by plane or ferry, how self reliant they are. Their other groceries and supplies are sent over each week by barge. This town lives to fish and fishes to live. It is their livelihood. If you live there, you either fish or support those that fish in one way or another, whether it be as a fishwife (or some cases, fishhusband) or through your work that's in some way connected to sustaining fishing such as a hatchery, processing plant, cannery, watershed management, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, etc. They are fiercely protective about their pristine environment and work very hard to make sure it stays that way and that it doesn't become overfished. There is an exceptionally strong sense of community and pride in Cordova where everyone works together towards a common goal to preserve their heritage and livelihood.

I could go on and on because I learned so much during my visit to Cordova, things that I will never forget, but I'll stop for now and share some photos from my trip. I never really knew what wilderness was until I saw Alaska. It is such a vast area of unspoiled beauty and nature not yet destroyed by us humans. I will never forget Cordova and am glad I took so many photos while there (over 1,100). Don't worry, I won't share all of them...but here are some of my favorites. Since this is a food blog, I will start with one of my favorite meals while there, Copper River Salmon w/ Citrus Salsa served at the Reluctant Fisherman Inn. It was delicious!  Enjoy!

This is where I stayed in Cordova, the Orca Adventure Lodge (converted to a lodge from its former life as Orca Cannery)

View of the lodge from the fishing boat that we were on
View of the inlet from my room

Most of the original buildings still exist on the property, here's one with the "Orca Cannery" sign
For perspective, this is where I stayed; look at how it's tucked on the edge of these huge mountains (I took this photo from our fishing boat trip) you know why I didn't have much phone or internet service!
Even though it rained a good bit of the time there, I was still able to get some beautiful photos of the views across the inlet at the lodge.

Here are some photos from a long walk my daughter and I took from the lodge towards town on a sunny day

The buildings dotting the shore are canneries.
Recognize this boat? It's the Northwestern from Discovery's Deadliest Catch. We passed it walking and again later on while out on another fishing boat.
We also passed this "here comes the bride boat"...there was a wedding held at the lodge while we were there and this is how the wedding party arrived...via the family's fishing boat!

We had a day long Glacier Tour with a long drive and airboat ride to the Copper River Delta to see Child's Glacier and the Million Dollar Bridge

Million Dollar Bridge

Child's Glacier

While at Child's Glacier, we had the opportunity to enjoy a freshly caught Copper River Salmon that was cleaned, filleted, and grilled as we was delicious!

A Few Photos of our Ride with a Commercial Fisherman On His Bowpicker (we saw sea lions, sea otter and bald eagles)

John Bocci, Commercial Fisherman took us out on his bowpicker

4 sea lions sunning themselves
Cute little sea otter

Bald Eagle sitting on top of the tree
Our ride to go salmon fishing on another outing (4 women, 2 men and a baby)
A glimpse of the river we were salmon fishing at

We toured the Ocean Beauty Seafood plant where Copper River Salmon is processed
We hiked Heney Ridge Trail in the Chugach National Forest (w/ Michelle Dockins)
Copper River Wild Salmon Festival

One of the beautiful salmon dishes we judged at the Taste of Cordova

We drove out to Power Creek Hydroelectric Plant to see Copper River Salmon spawning
Notice the beautiful blue-green color of the glacial water

Copper River Salmon spawning
*SPECIAL THANKS to the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association (particularly Christa, Erica and ladies are the best); Jeff Bailey, Rich Wheeler (and son Hugh), RJ & Barclay K., John Bocci, Curly H., Michelle Dockins, Korey Vargo, Ray Coffey, Kristin (Watershed Project), Elena (Alaska Fish & Game), Michael Clutter (Ocean Beauty Seafoods), James W. (Solstice), Kate (narrator on our Child's Glacier trip), the staff at Orca Adventure Lodge and the scores of other folks in Cordova that made our trip there so special. In closing I will paraphrase a quote from Maya Angelou..."People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." made us feel VERY special by graciously opening up your lives and beautiful world to us! Lastly, to the blogger girls I had the privilege of accompanying...Gina (Running to the Kitchen), Michelle & baby Cullen (The Runner's Plate) and Savannah (Primal Revolutions) as well as my daughter Jennifer; I enjoyed every moment we spent together learning about Cordova and hope our paths will cross again some day. Final thanks to Michelle's husband Craig for making our 9 hour layover in Anchorage an opportunity to see well as a MOOSE! Big thanks to ALL!

#copperriverwild, #copperriversalmon, #knowyourfisherman, #100daysofsalmon, #soundsalmon


Charlotte Moore said...

You really had an adventure. Amazing what it cost those people to fish for salmon.

Peg said...

Okay I am officially jealous! ;)

Thank you for sharing photos of your trip to Alaska. You definitely enjoyed it.

Andrea at Opulent Cottage said...

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this wonderful blog post, and now he's headed to Sprouts to grab us some Sockeye salmon for dinner! Thank you so much for the inspiring photos. Cordova is now on our wish list of places to visit!

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi Charlotte,

Yes, we did have an adventure. That was my thoughts exactly. I had no idea it would cost anywhere near that much to fish anywhere! They actually get mortgages on their boats, too. :-)

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi Peg,

LOL...glad you enjoyed the photos. :-)

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi Andrea,

Thanks! So happy you enjoyed the post. Hope you enjoy your sockeye, too! :-)

Unknown said...

Great adventure---great story---great pictures!

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Thanks Don! :-)

Gina said...

Such a great recap, Ayla! Love seeing all the pictures and hard to believe it was just a week ago! Had such a great time with you and Jennifer and incredibly jealous of your moose sighting on the way home!

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Thanks Gina! We were so excited to finally see a moose...and it was literally within 10 minutes before being dropped back off at the airport. It is hard to believe it's only been a week. Hope you've caught up on your sleep. I felt like a zombie for a few days but am back to my regular kooky self now! Jennifer and I enjoyed our adventure with you and the others. :-)

CyberSis said...


I was so excited to see your pictures today ... I've been having computer woes and the internet has been impossible the past few days! Yesterday I could get on your blog and read your *wonderful* report, but most of the pix wouldn't come up and I couldn't post a comment.

I can see that you had a spectacular trip to Alaska ... the *real* Alaska, as they say! :-) I'm so glad you got the opportunity to experience it. I love your write-up and I learned a number of things that I was not aware of. Homesickness is setting in. You can leave Alaska, but Alaska never leaves you whether you spend one week or a couple of decades there.

The computer and Comcast problems aren't completely resolved. This seems to be a "window of opportunity" ... will have to see what I get tomorrow.

chris said...

What a great blog post. My husband and I both really enjoyed it. Now you see why we love the Pacific Northwest! We are missing it now. Gorgeous pictures too.

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi CyberSis,

So happy you enjoyed the pictures! Yes, I really did enjoy my trip. I have never been anywhere like Alaska think that I thought a wooded area around here was wilderness is pretty funny now that I've seen what that really is! I would love to go back and visit again some day. We did stop in at the visitor center in Anchorage by the way. We ate at the Glacier Brewhouse downtown and walked around the shops on 4th & 5th area. Since it was Sunday, the shops closed earlier than usual, but we got a good feel for it. We heard that some folks consider Anchorage "10 minutes from Alaska"...LOL. I thought that was pretty funny.

You lived there for quite a while so I'm sure you are homesick. Was it difficult getting used to the short days/long nights of winter? My body didn't want to go to sleep with all the daylight there now, but assume that most that live there have room darkening shades. Hope your computer problems are fixed. It is so frustrating when that happens, isn't it? :-)

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, I do see why you loved it. I hope you are getting settled in nicely in your new place. Not sure about what your heat is like there this time of year but it has been quite nasty here...temps in the low-mid 90s. I guess I should just be happy we haven't hit 100 (yet). LOL :-)

CyberSis said...


I'm still limping along with my "Old Faithful" laptop, which I use as a backup computer. It has saved the day on more than one occasion. :-)

I was so glad to read that you had a "tour guide" for your 9-hour layover in Anchorage! You made the most of your time that way for sure. I hope you enjoyed your dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse ... the number of first-rate restaurants to be found in and around that small city of Anchorage was/is truly impressive! Yes, I'd forgotten about the "10 minutes to Alaska" quip. It's true, too! It doesn't take long to get there from anywhere in Anchorage. We lived in a neighborhood on the eastern-most edge of Anchorage and Alaska was pretty much right out our back door. We had moose (sometimes with babies) wander through the yard or a neighbor's. Everyone would be out with their cameras! There is nothing cuter than a baby moose, in my humble opinion! They'd stay around for a few hours and then wander off back into the hills. People didn't much like it when they'd eat their expensive ornamental trees ... but hey, when you plant moose food ... :-) There's a full-time resident moose population in the city parks and greenbelts and it's not unusual to run across them hiking/biking/skiing on the trails. But you don't want to forget that these are still wild animals and get too close. They aren't normally aggressive unless they are harassed but they will stand their ground. We've had to turn around and find another way to go on a number of occasions. And if you come across a mom with babies it's best to just clear out of there ... fast! :-)

It was kind of an adjustment at first getting used to the long days and nights. We had "blackout curtains" on the bedroom windows for the first couple of summers, but eventually didn't really need them anymore. A lot of people who were cooped up in window-less offices found the short daylight hours in winter to be problematic to one degree or another. They would arrive at work in darkness and go home in darkness for much of the winter. I didn't have too much trouble because I was able to get out and about during the daylight hours, plus my office had windows. I would also concentrate on being "cozy" at home ... fire in the fireplace, hot cider or cocoa, curled up in a blanket with a kitty cat or two and a good book ... Those were the days! :-)

A few years ago, when I started reading the WB books and website, as Dr. D. was describing the changes in the wheat, I was reminded of our trips to and from Alaska. We drove both ways, took our time, and made an adventure of it. We wanted to hit some of the national parks on our way there. We also drove through the "bread basket" of the U.S. and saw those "amber waves of grain" ... just acres and acres of wheat rolling in the wind just like an ocean. On our way back, 22 years later, we went through wheat country again (this time driving through Canada.) I was looking for those amber waves, because they were so impressive and beautiful. I thought it was kind of strange that we didn't come across any like that. Now I understand the significance. We did see crops that appeared to be some sort of grain, but didn't realize at the time that it was the new-fangled semi-dwarf "wheat." The amber waves had morphed into "Frankenwheat" while we were away in Alaska! Wow!

Well, I apologize for rambling on so. Your trip report and pix must have stirred up some recollections ... so I guess I'll just say "thanks for the memories." :-)

CyberSis said...

LOL! Does it look like moose enjoy hiking/biking/skiing on the trails? What I *meant* of course was "... it's not unusual to run across them *while* hiking/biking/skiing on the trails." :-)

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi CyberSis,

How fun that would have been to see "baby moose". We were warned or cautioned I should say that moose don't like being bothered, much as bears don't. Did you see many bears while you were there? Until my visit there, I had never carried bear spray before or wore a "bear bell"...and folks there just seem to accept that you can easily come up upon one when hiking, in the yard, etc. and accept that as the norm.

Around is BIG news when they find their way into the suburbs and occasionally city. When first asked if I knew what to do if encountering a first response was RUN! Only to find out that is the LAST thing you want to do. Fortunately I didn't have to find that out first hand during my visit.

How interesting that during your adventures in and out of Alaska over the years that you noticed the drastic appearance of wheat to the point you didn't initially recognize the new-fangled stuff! Glad you had the opportunity to wander down "memory lane"...sometimes it takes a simple photo or something to trigger a memory. Now, back to the broiling heat and humidity of summer in the Atlanta area! ;-)

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi CyberSis,

LOL...I understood what you meant but it might appear to others reading it like they enjoy hiking/biking/skiing on the trails! Hahaha! Oh, and I realized when I responded at lunch time to the post about your Mom's 98th b'day cake...that I addressed you as now we're even! ;-)

CyberSis said...


LOL ... now *I'm* the one who feels extra special! :-)

Bear sightings in Anchorage were very few and far between. Less than a handful the entire time we lived there. Like in your area, they would occasionally get lost and wander into the city. They generally find their way out by themselves in a day or two (if no one bothers them) and I don't recall any scary incidents while we were there. Even though we lived on the edge of town, we had only one black bear meander through our neighborhood. There have been serious incidents with bears, and moose, when people take to the surrounding hills and forests, but not as many as you might imagine around Anchorage.

One thing we really enjoyed was to go out and look for wild blueberries and low-bush cranberries and just hike the trails. Our very first berry picking jaunt was just a few miles from town. We came well prepared with our bear bells & pepper spray, but after a few annoyed glances from other hikers, we got the message and put the bells away! We never encountered any bears on any of our hikes. On that first adventure, though, I thought I heard a "roar" and then another one. Every time I turned around I heard a "roar"! Well, come to find out, the "roar" was actually the sound of my cranberries rolling around in the bottom of my berry pail! (Oh brother, what a cheechako!)

The story about black bears was that if you come across one you should "scold" it to make it go away! S-u-r-e ..... like I'm really gonna scold a bear!!! Brown bears are another story ... you don't want to scold those!

Say, I'm curious about how you happened to land an invitation to travel to the most gorgeous place on earth, :-) I saw the caption on one of your pix that you and the other bloggers did some judging at the Taste of Cordova. Wow ... now that’s what I call tough duty! LOL! I think that would be a pretty interesting part of your story!

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi CyberSis,

Interesting that after 22 years there that you didn't encounter bears on your hikes, etc. Too funny about your "roaring cranberries" too! LOL My thoughts exactly about trying to scold or scare a bear.

I actually received an invitation via email from the Copper River Marketing Association. At first I thought it was some sort of hoax/scam email but the more I read, the more I realized it was legit. Evidently they noticed (from Pinterest) that I posted a lot of Copper River Salmon recipes/posts, etc. and that was how they selected me to come learn more. For me, that wasn't a hard decision to make to say yes at all. I was so amazed and impressed at all the science, planning and forecasting that goes into fishing and sustaining Copper River Salmon. We went out and watched how they count the fish, went to the science center to learn about how they track them via their ear bones of all things where they can tell the age of the fish, what it ate, what hatchery it was from and so many other things. We went out to where they spawned and spoke with commercial fishermen to learn about all that was involved and so many other things. It was most definitely an educational experience as well as eye opener for me. I won't complain about how much it costs any more. Of course the fisherman actually doesn't make anywhere near what it is sold for after processing, mark-up and shipping costs, etc. is extremely hard work. Well...hope you are having a great day. Time for me to head back to work (home for lunch now). :-)

CyberSis said...


How wonderful is that ... to get noticed by just the right people! I can see how your first reaction would be, "this just sounds too good to be true." The technology that is involved in every stage of the Copper River Salmon enterprise is truly amazing. I had no idea what all goes into getting those lovely filets to our dinner tables! We didn't do any fishing ourselves, but lots of people we knew did. They called it "combat fishing" because during salmon season the banks of the various streams would be lined solid with wall-to-wall people and their fishing gear. They would preserve their catch by canning, freezing, or smoking, and home processed salmon often left much to be desired. This, of course, bears no resemblance *at all* to the commercial operations, which produce an absolutely *superior* product! There just is no comparison and it's worth every penny, too!

You did well, GGC! And so did the Copper River Marketing Association ... they could not have chosen a better ambassador! :-)

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Thanks CyberSis!

How great is it to be invited to be a part of something you already love? :-)