Fresh Copper River salmon lands in Seattle

Fresh Copper River salmon lands in Seattle
Alaska Airlines first officer Peter Michels carries a 40-pound Copper River salmon off the plane as Capt. Jeff Meyer looks on as the first shipment of the valuable fish arrives in Seattle from Cordova, Alaska, Friday, May 17, 2013. The arrival of the salmon, which is prized for it's taste and color, is a rite of spring in Seattle, and the fish bring top dollar in restaurants and fish markets. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
SEATAC, Wash. (AP) - The first planeload of Copper River salmon from Cordova, Alaska, landed Friday morning at Sea-Tac Airport and the Alaska Airlines pilots carried a 40-pound king to waiting chefs.

The annual cook-off among local chefs this year includes Master Sgt. Robert Schulman, a 31-year Air Force Reserve chef representing the 446th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The arrival of fresh Copper River king and sockeye salmon is a rite of spring in Seattle where the fish are prized for their flavor. They typically bring the highest prices at restaurants and fish markets.

Copper River salmon lovers have local resident Jon Rowley to thank for the tradition and craze that has swept the state.

"I knew it was going to be important," Rowley said in an interview with KOMO NewsRadio.

Prior to 1983, most Alaska salmon found its way into cans. Small boat size and lack of ice being two constraints to Rowley's then-radical ideas of packaging fresh fish.

Overtime, Rowley convinced a group of Copper River fisherman to package the salmon using his techniques. The salmon was bled, iced and packaged on the boat, then shipped to Seattle via Alaska Airlines.

"In 1983 we brought the first-ever fresh Copper River salmon," Rowley said.

Rowley shopped the salmon around to local restaurants whose patrons raved about the fish. Word of the mouthwatering flavor spread, and today a whole king fish sells for $40 a pound at Pike's Market.

Today's plane carried 24,600 pounds of fish, and Alaska Airlines scheduled three more salmon flights Friday. The airline says it will ship more than 2 million pounds of salmon this year across its 95-city network.