The idea for Taste of Alaska was hatched at the end of the 2007 fishing season. My dad and I were debriefing about the successful harvest for the year, when one of us had the idea to direct market the wild Alaska sockeye we were catching. Having recently “retired” from my teaching career, I was in the perfect position to take on a new challenge. I knew our community would serve as the ideal market, given the fact that Missoulians are especially invested in local businesses and the quality of food they feed their families. Ten years later, Taste of Alaska is going strong. Each summer I harvest sockeye salmon in Alaska and bring it back to Missoula. My catch is sold at the Clark Fork River Market, local grocery stores, and restaurants. Additionally, I deliver to private homes and businesses. Taste of Alaska’s offerings have expanded from only wild Alaska sockeye in 2007 to the more than 15 different wild-caught products available today.
Bristol Bay Sockeye Fishery
I travel with a crew of deckhands to the Bristol Bay, Alaska sockeye fishery each year. We live and fish from the fishing vessel (f/v) Bracor Bay in the months of June and July. The sockeye begin their annual migration back to Bristol Bay around the 1st of June, with the peak of returning salmon arriving the first week of July. By the end of July, the fishery is over and the sockeye have migrated up the Bristol Bay rivers to spawn. We use gillnets to harvest the sockeye salmon. A gillnet is comprised of a corkline, which floats; a leadline, which sinks; and gillnet mesh in between. The salmon swim into the gillnet mesh and get caught. The net is then brought on board, and the fish are individually picked out of the net. After the net is picked, the sockeye are bled and put in fish holds that have refrigerated salt water (RSW) circulating throughout. After the fishing period has ended, we offload our catch to larger boats, called tenders, who take the fish to the processing plant for processing and freezing.
Bristol Bay sockeye is one of a few truly wild salmon fisheries left in the world. The sustainability of our fishery is top priority for the fisherman and area managers. Our fishing periods are determined by Fish and Game, who actively manage the fishery. The Bristol Bay fishery is comprised of five fishing districts. Each district has a team of Fish and Game personnel who manage that river system for sustainability. They count the fish going up river, and let the commercial fisherman fish only when escapement upriver is in line with in-season objectives. When Fish and Game determines that a fishing period can commence, they broadcast that information across the local radio station. Once a fishing opening is broadcast, then fishermen ready their boats and get in position to fish.