It was another kettle of fish for Bill Webber. The third-generation fisherman, accustomed to supplying his wild-caught salmon to restaurants and individuals, turned to eBay when a gorgeous 50-pound Copper River salmon turned up in his nets.
“We were picking the net up and all of a sudden that huge king came rolling over the bow,” he said by phone from Cordova.
In his 45 years in the fishery (he started at age 11), Webber’s become known in the past 14 years or so for his direct marketing, supplying well-sourced restaurants like Seattle’s Poppy. “Your fish looked better in death than they did in life,” Copper River marketing innovator Jon Rowley once told him. A marine engineer and boatbuilder as well as a fisherman, he’s developed “some tools that help aid in production efficiency” on his boat, aiming for high quality and maximum shelf life through his Gulkana Seafoods.
He has Internet access on his boat and a new satellite phone system, and went right on eBay from the water to set up an auction.
“Item condition: New,” the listing began on Tuesday, with opening bids set at $800. “The King salmon was pre-rigor processed immediately after capture, was live bled, then pressure bled, gilled and gutted. The head was left on for full presentation of this magnificent fish.” He promised to return to Cordova the next day to FedEx it to the winning bidder. Perishable items are allowed on eBay, though regulated, but Rowley hadn’t heard of a Copper River being offered before.
In the end, it was a bit of a fish out of water. Despite 880 views, no individuals were prepared to bid up an entire hefty salmon with no notice, despite the relative bargain of a price (fillets are selling for $39.99 per pound over here.) But a chef client of Webber’s, Regan Reik, saw the listing and told Webber he’d like dibs if the fish didn’t go at auction. Webber said he sold it to him for that opening price and shipped it off to Cleveland, where salmon’s recently been cedar-planked and served with braised Swiss chard and rosemary roasted potatoes.
There are other fish in the sea for Webber, and he said the experiment only whetted his interest in using auction sites as an outlet — maybe with more advance warning next time, or maybe with smaller packages of sockeye salmon. And if this fish hadn’t sold at all? He would have filleted and frozen it, he said, for his own future dinners.
“It was such a beautiful thing.”