The Story of Copper River Salmon and The Deeper Meaning of Eating Wild

By Amanda Paa – Updated May 17, 2020

One month ago today, I boarded a plane to Cordova, Alaska, ready to explore the Copper River Delta and the sustainable wild salmon industry, one that has resulted in an ever-replenishing supply for generations to come. Little did I know it was going to be so much more than that. A trip that would truly change me forever, move me in a way I never could have imagined.

The land. The people. The salmon. The passion.

They all exist because of one another…… the most beautiful circle of life I’ve ever witnessed.

Cordova, Alaska

My passion for sharing the story behind real food with all of you is what spurred the journey, a collaboration with the wonderful folks of the Copper River Salmon Association. Already an advocate of consuming sustainable fish (and all plants/animals), I welcomed the opportunity to dig deeper into the meaning of “eating wild”.

For 5 days we (myself, Chef Tim Labont and his wife Julia, Eric Lucas from Alaskan Airlines magazine, and Amanda from The Wholesome Dish) were able to immerse ourselves in the community, seeing and experiencing each detail of this industry – from the incredible life cycle of the coho salmon (the last of the three species, including king and sockeye, to make a run each year), to the sequence of events that occurs so we can enjoy this nutrient dense fish on our own plates. So many hands and hearts involved, beginning with the Alaska Fish & Game, to the 541 fisherman/fisherwomen (number of permits controlled by the state), to the processors, and the supportive community.

Sockeye Salmon dinner ~ Reluctant Fisherman Inn, Cordova Alaska

I remembered learning about the life cycle of salmon in 7th grade science class, but until I saw the hundreds of spawning (dead) salmon in the river stream did it hit home. These beautiful fish essentially live to reproduce, and then perish. Adult spawners journey for hundreds of miles to return to the waters their parents spawned in, and where they themselves were born. If they make it back, eluding all sorts of obstacles, the males and females court and breed. At that time, the male releases sperm and the female releases eggs at precisely the same time. As soon as they lay their eggs, giving life to hundreds of baby salmon, their time is done. From there, the little ones, known as “frys” will spend 1-2 years in freshwater streams, then make their way to the ocean where they live for 4-5 years. And then their calling is to go back to those freshwater streams, just as their parents did.

And here in lies one of the biggest differences of Copper River Salmon: they travel 300 nearly miles to reach their streams, leading to a lean body, higher Omega 3 fat content, and incredible flavor.

truck art, alaska wild salmon

At the crack of dawn on Saturday morning, we took a trip down to the Eyak River bright, ready for a morning of fishing to see if we could reel in a big one for ourselves. Breathing in the freshest air, my eyes were in awe, a scenic backdrop with thick fog rising.

As we passed other sport fishers, standing in waders and flannel shirts, chatting amongst one another, it reminded me of hunting traditions here in Minnesota.

My line dangled in the water for quite awhile as I tried to perfect my cast.

After nearly two hours and almost calling it a day, there was a tug on the line that I’ll never forget. The sparkling silver coho fought hard, and with the instruction of our guide, I ran him up the shore, until finally I had my prize, standing in one of the most pristine natural resources in the world.

Coho Salmon - Fishing in Cordova, AlaskaCoho Salmon - Fishing in Cordova, Alaska

We spent that evening in one of the local’s homes, sharing delicious homemade food (salmon of course) and stories.

As these fishermen spoke about their craft, I could see, hear, and feel the love and pride from every single one of them…… Integrity that translates to the highest quality wild salmon you could ever wish for on your plate.

the passion of fisherman, the reason to eat wild salmon.

It was at that moment that the meaning of “eating wild” changed for me. It strikes a cord each time I pick up a filet, knowing those were real hands and hearts that pulled in the line, giving their every day to bring us nourishment.

That is beautiful, real food at the core. That is what sustains me, and fuels my passion to share these stories with you because they certainly aren’t meant to be a secret.

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures that capture moments that words can’t quite describe. And I sincerely hope you are able to experience wild Copper River Salmon soon, which you can find locally at Coastal Seafoods and Whole Foods, or directly from one of my favorite fisherman I met, Rich from Senasea Foods. I’ve also been working on a fantastic recipe, so stay tuned for that, plus tips and tricks to cooking with salmon.

From the bottom of my heart, the biggest thanks to Copper River Salmon Marketing for giving me the experience of a lifetime, and the vibrant community for taking me in as one of their own. xo

Cordova, Alaska (travel scenes)

The Cordova Harbor, which houses all of the 541 boats.

Fishing Dog on the Dock watching a sea otter~ Cordova Harbor

Taya, one of the fisherwomen, had a dog I fell in love with (not surprisingly). He had his eye on an sea otter while we were in the harbor. Can you spot it?

Fishing Dog on the Dock ~ Cordova Harbor

And despite the photo opp, he still wouldn’t take his gaze off the sea otter. :)

Float Plane ride: Cordova, Alaska

In a float plane, we soared over the entire Copper River Delta, and saw everything from the greenest mountains, incredible glaciers and lakes, snow covered mountains, river streams, and the mighty ocean.

eating at Orca Adventure Lodge: Barbecue two ways with sticky rice, caramelized pineapple & guava sauce.

I ate a lot of salmon. I mean A LOT. So when we ate at the Orca Adventure Lodge after our fishing trip, I took a break with this delicious plate of pork two ways with sticky rice and guava sauce.

Cordova Foraging Festival ~ Dying cloth with mushrooms We were also fortunate to be there during the town’s annual foraging festival. This gal was giving a demonstration on using native mushrooms to dye fabric. Incredible.

Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns & Twisted Stalk

We were also invited into a woman’s home for an afternoon of cooking, where I learned how to make gravlax. They preserve so much of what they forage because they mainly live off the land, like these pickled fiddlehead ferns and twisted stalk.

Sheridan Glacier, Cordova Alaska

And the most breathtaking scene of them all, Sheridan Glacier, which we were able to walk around on the last day of our trip.

I certainly hope to see it again.

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October 5, 2015


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  1. Alexandra

    Do the local people eat copper river salmon raw as sashimi?
    Thank you for the wonderful article!

  2. Soapstone Countertops

    Looks like a wonderful (and delicious) trip!

  3. Karine Assunção Leal de Carvalho

    Hi Amanda: Follow me back in the Twitter : @LealAssuno , thanks : Karine

  4. Carrie @Frugal Foodie Mama

    What an absolutely amazing experience! :) I never thought I would want to travel to Alaska (I am not a fan of the cold, lol), but your story here has me envious and thinking otherwise now. You are a fabulous storyteller, Amanda. <3

  5. kristie {birch and wild}

    Oh my goodness-what an amazing opportunity! The photos and words are both beautiful, and I love the overall message: that sustainability is key to healthier people and a healthier planet. I can’t wait to visit Alaska one day!

  6. @Travelpanties

    This looks amazing! I have always wanted to go to Alaska! Wow!!!

  7. Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

    What a unique and breathtaking adventure! My husband’s from Alaska but we haven’t been to Cordova yet. We’ll definitely need to visit!

    • Amanda Paa

      How cool that your husband is from Alaska! You should definitely visit Cordova. The community is amazing to be a part of even though it is very small. And the foraging is out of this world! Berries, mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, I could go on…

  8. Jennifer

    What breathtaking scenery! I’m actually dying to go to Alaska when the salmon swim upstream, but mainly because I want to see the bears trying to catch them. But salmon is one of the few fish I really like and I bet fresh, wild salmon is delicious.

  9. Joanie @ Zagleft

    What an amazing experience, Amanda. I can certainly see how it changed you. My family and I love salmon and eat it often. This would be such an amazing trip, thank you for sharing it with us.

  10. Liz @ The Lemon Bowl

    This would be such a dream trip – we eat salmon several nights a week and I would love to learn more about where it comes from. Loved traveling there with you via these gorgeous photos!

  11. Julie @ Julie's Eats & Treats

    What an amazing trip and experience! You have me wishing to go salmon fishing now! You have truly caught the entire community in this great post!

    • Amanda Paa

      It really was great. And each time I read the post, I re-live it :) Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Sena

    What an amazing post. You have truly captured the passion that Copper River fishermen and women have for their fish, as well as the connectivity that a fishing community has with nature. Rich was very grateful to meet you at the dinner, and we really appreciate your support and enthusiasm for eating wild (and gluten free)!

    • Amanda Paa

      The conversation I had that evening with Rich was so great, I only wish you could have been there. We talked a lot about what he does, and your family, the road you’ve been down to help your son and the improvements he has made by taking out gluten. So fantastic.

      And I’m enjoying the fish you sent so very much. A delicious salmon recipe will be coming to the blog soon! xo

  13. Emily | Gather & Dine

    These photos are stunning, Amanda! It’s so great to hear about all that you learned and gained an appreciation for- thank you for sharing. What a memorable experience!

    • Amanda Paa

      Thanks so much for stopping by Emily. It truly was a trip of a lifetime. So many memories!

  14. Crista

    I’m not sure your photos could be any more beautiful…

    • Amanda Paa

      thanks friend. :) but the real praise goes to the land. it’s so naturally beautiful!

  15. Liz @ Floating Kitchen

    What an incredible experience, Amanda. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. And your gorgeous photos too (just WOW!). I can see how one would have a hard time putting into words all that the trip must have meant, on so many different levels. XOXO.

  16. rebecca | DisplacedHousewife

    Looks beautiful — was so excited to see this post. What an amazing experience. The salmon sounds delicious…and those boots. Don’t even get me started… Love.
    R xo

    • Amanda Paa

      thanks so much for reading rebecca, it means a lot. and yes those boots! ;)

  17. Elaine Paa

    Reading of your experiences and your love of not only the land, but the food you experienced is such a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Amanda Paa

      Nothing makes me happier than sharing it with everyone. So thankful for the opportunities God has given me!

  18. Krista @ Joyful Healthy Eats

    I am seriously in awe! What an amazing trip, I can see how it would have changed you! Whenever we experience something first hand it strikes right to the core of us. Thanks for sharing Amanda!

  19. Mondo | I bake he shoots

    Sounds like it was an amazing trip! I love all the photos; they’re beautiful. I love salmon too! What I wouldn’t give to live in a place where one can have fresh seafood everyday.

    • Amanda Paa

      Mondo, I feel the same way about the fresh seafood piece. Being landlocked in Minnesota can be tricky. But luckily we’ve got a few good suppliers who can get us fresh & wild salmon. Thanks for reading, girl. xo

  20. Abby @ The Frosted Vegan

    Everything is gorgeous from your trip, including that lake/glacier! I love the learning the stories of how food makes it to our plates, it just makes eating and enjoying it that much better and closer to the heart :)

    • Amanda Paa

      Ugh, yes, that glacier was seriously unbelievable. Hard for your eyes to even believe it’s real. And such true meaning to knowing the story, that makes enjoying it even more. xo

  21. Faith (An Edible Mosaic)

    I can see how this experience would be one that stays with you forever. What a great opportunity to get to know people who are so passionate about what they do! Salmon (and food in general) definitely takes on deeper meaning if you think about all that goes into it and where it comes from. A beautiful post! xoxo

  22. julia

    That looks like such an amazing trip. I can only imagine how it touched you. It is so special to be able to learn firsthand about something you are passionate about. And man is Alaska beautiful. Your photos make me want to jump on a plane and head there now.

  23. Ashley | Spoonful of Flavor

    What an incredible experience! You have some beautiful pictures of your memories from the trip. I have always wanted to go fishing for salmon and your trip looks like a great way to experience fishing and learn more about the people behind the salmon. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!