Cordova fishermen will have their hands full over the next week as they prepare for the famed Copper River salmon opener — the first 12-hour fishing period begins May 17 at 7 a.m.

“The beginning of the salmon season is always exciting for the fishing community here in Cordova,” said Christa Hoover, executive director of the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association. “Everyone’s pace has a greater sense of urgency as May 17th approaches, boats are being worked on and nets are being hung. Local businesses appreciate the activity, and fishing families are ready to feel less of a financial pinch this time of year.

"We’ve seen a few new faces this year already. It’s really great to continue to see young fishermen have the optimism and confidence to invest in a salmon gillnet fishing business here in Area E."

A catch of 1.7 million sockeye and 19,000 kings is expected to return to the Copper River this year, according to estimates from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

On April 30, Cordova-based seafood processor Sixty North Seafoods announced the opening of a custom, fishermen-run processing facility in time for the Copper River harvests.

The company will buy and process wild Alaska fish (custom process and direct market) at the new location, as well as empower other fishermen to do the same with their catch.

“As third-generation fishermen, the founders of Sixty North Seafoods take great pride in fishing sustainably and feel a strong commitment to ocean stewardship,” the company said in a news release announcing its new facility. “Every fish caught in the Copper River is treated with the utmost respect and care. Caught by a small fleet of independent fishermen, a craft that has been handed down for generations, the fish are hand-picked from the net one by one, inspected for quality, stored on ice in refrigerated holds and urgently shipped by plane daily for the pinnacle of quality and freshness."

The company, which employs both longliners and gillnetters, was founded by Rich Wheeler, Sena Wheeler and John D. Weise, who all hail from multi-generational fishing families.

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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