senior salmon day

Salmon Fishermen Donate Catches in Alaska

Generosity runs deep in Alaska’s small remote fishing community of Cordova. 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 renowned 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.

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Hosted by Cordova District Fishermen United, Senior Salmon Day was¬†initiated in 1999 as a way to get the local catch to elders and seniors in the community who had aged out of being able to catch salmon themselves or who couldn’t access the resource for a variety of 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 Main Street and handed off to seniors. Due to COVID restrictions in 2020, the logistics shifted a bit. The 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.

Senior Salmon Day

The 2022 Senior Salmon Day was held on July 6th and, Jess Rude, CDFU’s Executive Director reports, “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.” Rude further reports that Senior Salmon Day average fish donations by fishermen have increased since 2020 when the pandemic began.

Reflecting on the event, Rude says: “Generosity of the fleet is up more than 50% 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.¬†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.”

senior salmon day
Local Cordova senior and Ruby the Sockeye Salmon on Senior Salmon Day.

When Cordova’s seniors were casually interviewed about how they would use the fillets, they happily reported hosting a barbecue with friends; pan frying it for dinner with a creamy lemon butter sauce; cooking it with a marinade of orange juice, soy sauce, spices; and putting it into their backyard smokehouse for a cold smoke before preserving.

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This communal generosity will continue this summer when CDFU and the Copper River Watershed organize donations for the Fish to School Donation event. Prince William sockeye and pink salmon will be the starring fish at this event and the salmon will be filleted and flash frozen at the processing facilities. The ultimate destination? The student lunch trays at the Cordova School District.