Bristol Bay Alaska: An Model For Sustainable Fishing
The Salmon Run of Bristol Bay
I waited patiently in the small office of the Leader Creek Fishery for the next supply boat out to the Bristol Bay Commercial Salmon Fishing Fleet. I recalled the long flight from New York City to Seattle, Seattle to Anchorage, and finally another jumper flight to the small city of Naknek, Alaska. There's no roads to Naknek. During the annual Bristol Bay Salmon Run, however, you wouldn't know it. This sleepy little city, with no more than 3 bars, fills up like an old gold mining city. Young rookies sit around wide eyed and nervous while the experienced fisherman catch their last beer and decent meal before departing to sea for their share of Alaska's prized sockeye salmon.
MY FIRST DAY
I won't ever forget it. Large boats called Tenders bring supplies to fleets far out into the ocean. I crawled on board, and found an open bunk to sleep during the 9 hour trip to the fleet. I awoke up the next day and the sea had taken a turn for the worst. 30 foot waves and 45mph winds were battering down on us. Not knowing if I get sea-sick or not, I braced for the worst.
The boat I was assigned to picked me and off we went. I was given the appropriate gear to keep me dry and a small tool with a nail on the end. My job was to lift the salmon from off the bottom of the boat with one arm, with the other I was to bleed the salmon by slicing a vein inside their gills. After, I'd throw the salmon into the hold and repeat this hundred or so times with every cast of the net.
Sea sickness? It turns out I was the only rookie to not throw up on the first day. The relentless wind and waves only fed my enthusiasm of working in the wide open sea. I was given the thumbs up by my crew and, after a lot of uncertainty in my head, I turned out to be a fine Alaskan commercial salmon fisherman. It was one of the most exhilarating days of my life.
In order to ensure the finest quality salmon, our fleet requires us to bleed immediately after catching them to drain the bacteria-fostering blood before being processed. Below is the tool I used to slice the salmon's jugular vein within their gill.
The Open Water
Watching this video may make you seasick.
Life on the Boat
I was on the water for a total of 13 days, but the rest of my crew stays out for months. I respect what these guys do. They work hard and the reward is a good paycheck, good camaraderie, and an office with one hell of a view. What an amazing experience.
Click the following link to see my experience with the fishermen at the bars after the catch: Naknek, Alaska
About Bristol Bay and Sustainability
The Bristol Bay salmon economy clears over $1.5B a year. It's because of the wonderful efforts of federal and state employees, as well as the fishermen who fish it that make Bristol Bay a sustainable ecosystem. As wild salmon runs disappear from the planet, Bristol Bay remains a proud example of how, when properly respected and maintained, a fishery can remain incredible place of significance for both the salmon and people it supports. Let's hope it stays this way in the future.