Bravery and skill of Cordova, Alaska’s commercial fishermen, in their one-person drift gillnet boats, make it possible to bring Copper River salmon to dinner tables.
From mid-May through late June, Chinook salmon enter the delta of the Copper River, on Prince William Sound. Sockeye follow, then Coho salmon arrive late August and September. Many Pacific Northwesterners enjoy the salmon’s taste, fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids.
May begins a tough journey for these salmon swimming up-stream into the 300-mile-long Copper River where their life began. Equally as tough as the salmon, are the Cordova fishermen, who risk their lives in sometimes rough seas to provide this delicacy.
The town of Cordova, Alaska, a town of about 2300 located on the east side of Prince William Sound, transforms into a hub of activity where 500 drift gillnetters prepare their boats at mid May’s salmon season opening day.
One year, per Alaska Airlines tradition, Bothell’s Mick Johns fish was the biggest and first King salmon flown to Seattle to kick off Copper River salmon season. The fish participated in the great chef cook-off, held at SeaTac Airport.
Mick Johns, a seasoned fisherman, epitomized the diligence, intelligence and courage it takes to face ever-changing, sometimes treacherous weather and sea conditions needed to catch these prized fish.
For 50 years, these southeast Alaskan waters were kind to Mick. But on May 25, 2017 the ocean claimed Mick’s life. Mick fished the waters for almost 50 years, following in his dad’s footsteps, an occupation now passed on to his son, Matthew.
Since the fishery runs only five months out of the year, fishermen often work other jobs to supplement income. During Mick’s seven months at home in Bothell, he was sought after for his carpentry and craftsmanship.
Although the fishermen of Cordova compete by hauling in nets of salmon, they are also a caring close-knit group, always looking out for the welfare of each other. On May 25, 2017 they did not hesitate to stop fishing and search for their fellow fisherman, whom they’d lost contact with.
Locals have talented and brave fishermen, like Bothell’s Mick Johns, to thank for this Copper River delicacy, a big price to pay.