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The Salmon's Sky-High This Year

By Walter Nicholls
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Washingtonians who wait all year for wild Copper River king salmon from Alaska are paying for the privilege -- assuming they can even find the prized fish in stores or restaurants.

Specialty fish markets are charging $5 more per pound than they did last year. At M. Slavin & Sons in Arlington, Copper River king salmon is selling for $28.95 per pound; at River Falls Seafood in Potomac, it's $29.99 per pound, up from $24.99 per pound last year. For the time being, supermarkets are carrying the less expensive sockeye variety.

At Oceanaire Seafood Room downtown, an entree of the rich, oily Copper River fish is $53.95, up from $32 five years ago. "We're just breaking even right now," says executive chef Rob Klink.

The Clyde's Group of restaurants, which has had a Copper River king promotion each spring since 1986, received its first shipment of the less expensive Copper River sockeye on Friday (on the menu for $18.95). Last year an entree of king or sockeye sold for $16.95. "We're taking a pass on the king until the price goes down," says Tom Meyer, vice president of Clyde's.

Meyer says that demand for wild salmon at Clyde's restaurants has risen in the past few years because "people are anti-farm-raised [salmon] because of the environmental concerns."

But there are numerous other reasons for the all-time-high price. The season, which started May 15 and lasts about two months, got off to a slow start because of unusually frigid waters and new limits placed on where fishermen are allowed to fish. Laura Fleming, spokeswoman for the Juneau-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, says that restrictions on salmon fishing in Oregon and California have caused a greater demand for Alaska salmon.

Higher fuel prices mean higher costs for running fishing boats as well as higher airfreight fees to get the fish to market quickly. Demand from chefs for more king salmon has been climbing for more than 20 years.

"America has gone from a country where very little salmon was consumed to a nation of salmon eaters," says Fleming, who expects prices to go down in the coming weeks for all species of salmon.

Kim O'Donnel ofhttp://washingtonpost.comcontributed to this report.

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