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Alaska Salmon Fisherman Nelly Hand and Paul Duncan, Executive Chef at Ray’s Boathouse, talk Alaska salmon

Skin-on Copper River salmon, alongside an asparagus, radish and pea salad, makes for a perfect summer menu item at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ray’s Boathouse
Jillian Werb | Flavor & The Menu

Nelly Hand

Nelly Hand, Cordova, Alaska

Nelly Hand is the face of Drifters Fish, a Cordova, Alaska-based dock-to-dish operation that supplies wild Copper River salmon to restaurants throughout the Pacific Northwest. People are often surprised to learn Hand is also a fisherman herself.

She grew up in an Alaskan fishing family and spent summers working on the family boat. It wasn’t until after she got her college diploma that she decided she wanted to fish for a living.

Nelly and her husband Michael now fish for all five species of salmon: king (Chinook), coho (silver), sockeye (red), pink (humpy) and chum (dog). They spend the May-to-September salmon season on their boat, a 31-foot gillnetter called Pelican.

Salmon fishing isn’t an easy business to break into, due to strict rules in place to protect Alaska’s salmon stock, explains Hand. Because the salmon fishery is a limited fishery, there is a set number of permits issued at any one time to anyone looking to start fishing.

“It’s a really big investment to get into Alaskan fishing. You have to wait for someone to retire, and the permits are expensive,” says Hand. “I’ve created Drifters to share our fish direct to customers and restaurants, to create connections with fishing, and to show other young fishermen and their different faces.”

And in doing so, she sells their stories along with their catch.

Paul Duncan, Executive Chef, Ray’s Boathouse, Seattle

When preparing Copper River sockeye, Paul Duncan keeps it simple in order to let the true flavor of the fish shine. He explains that the challenging waters of the Copper River these salmon navigate before they are pulled from the water lend a depth of flavor to their flesh like no other salmon he’s tasted—deep, rich and hearty.

Duncan likes to prepare this fish skin-on, with the crispy skin adding a welcome texture next to the supple flesh, he says.

One of his favorite summer preparations for Copper River salmon at Ray’s Boathouse is to grill a skin-on fillet over an applewood fire and serve it with a fresh salad of Washington asparagus, radish, peas, and herbs like dill and chive.

“It’s a light and fresh dish,” says Duncan. The only preparation required before grilling the salmon is to rub it with olive oil and season with kosher salt.

He finishes the dish with freshly ground pink and black pepper. “It’s all you need to make this fish into an incredible meal,” says Duncan.


From the special March-April 2019 Seafood issue of Flavor & the Menu magazine. Read this issue online or check if you qualify for a free print subscription.


About The Author


Christine Burns Rudalevige is a seasoned food writer and classically trained cook living in Brunswick, Maine. She has worked as a chef, a farmers’ market manager, and a boutique caterer. Christine founded the Family Fish Project (a website dedicated to eating seafood at home) and later worked as a lead culinary instructor at Stonewall Kitchen. The dedicated home cook and food writer has lent her voice to regional and national media outlets, from NPR to Cooking Light.