Chefs all smiles as Alaska's Copper River salmon arrive in Seattle

SEATTLE - The first shipment of Alaska's Copper River salmon arrived Friday morning at Sea-Tac Airport aboard an Alaska Airlines cargo flight from Cordova.

Pilot Trent Davey carried a fresh 55-pound king salmon off the plane. He held it over his head, then took it down the steps, across a red carpet and handed it to three Seattle chefs, competing in the annual "Copper Chef Cook-off."

The chefs, from Anthony's, Ray's BoatHouse and Crush, then whipped up the first Copper River salmon dishes of the season as a few judges, including former Mariners star Jay Buhner, weighed in on the efforts.

"The first Copper River Salmon that comes into Alaska is kind of the first time you realize that spring actually is here and you made it through a winter," said Trent Davey with Alaska Air Cargo. The airline carries hundreds of thousands of pounds of Copper River salmon a year.

The salmon are prized for their high oil content and flavor.

"This fish, because of the marbling in the fish, like we talk about every year with a steak - the fat content in this fish gives that really sweet, buttery flavor," said Frankie Ragusa with Ocean Beauty Seafoods.

About 20,000 pounds of wild salmon from the plane are headed to restaurants and stores for consumers. The salmon typically bring the highest prices at restaurants and fish markets. At Pike Place Fish, it was $19.99 a pound for an entire fish or $29.99 for filets.

"Salmon is ultimately salmon," said Jake Jardine with Pike Place Fish. "But there's something to be said for the longer rivers like the Copper River 'cause the fish tend to eat more, tend to be fattier."

Pike Place Fish says they've already sold out of the Copper River "king" salmon, and are already seeing the sockeye selling fast.