The 2022 edition of Senior Salmon Day was held in the small remote fishing community of Cordova, Alaska, in early July.
Home to the Copper River Prince William Sound commercial fishing fleet of 550 small independent fisherman, Cordova is where fishermen launch their boats to catch the regional king, sockeye, coho, keta and pink salmon. It's also where many of these independent family fishermen choose to share a portion of their treasured catch to seniors and students during the season's designated donation days.
Senior Salmon Day, hosted by Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), was initiated in 1999 as a way to get the local catch to community elders and seniors who had aged out of being able to catch salmon themselves, or who couldn't access the resource for various reasons. Now in its 23rd year, Cordova's Senior Salmon Day is woven into the town's tradition and is a communal celebration of the sustainable fishery and the local community.
Historically, donations were accepted only on one designated day and the fish was filleted fresh on the town’s Main Street and handed off to seniors. Due to Covid restrictions in 2020, however, the logistics shifted a bit: Donation days were extended and the fish, thanks to the generosity of local processing facilities, was filleted and flash frozen prior to the day of the event.
"The feeling of this year's Senior Salmon Day was abundance and gratefulness all around. We were back together on Main Street and distributed more than 450 sockeye fillets, two fillets per elder,” said Jess Rude, CDFU’s Executive Director.
Senior Salmon Day average fish donations by fishermen have increased since 2020 when the pandemic began, noted Rude: "Generosity of the fleet is up more than 50 percent of years past, perhaps because of a mix of neighborliness in harder times, thoughts on food security, or a fisherman's personal thoughts and reflections on inaccessibility to a local resource with market rates so high,” she said. “We're thrilled to be able to showcase the generosity of the fleet, and the ways we all continue to lean in and share a coveted resource."
The communal generosity continued this summer when CDFU and the Copper River Watershed organized donations for the Fish to School Donation event. Fishermen donated a portion of their wild catch to be processed by their preferred tender, then delivered directly to the Cordova School District freezers for the lunch program.