Eating fish plays a prominent role in where I come from, and who I am today. This is the first post of this 3 part series, which will start out today with my firsthand experience of the wild salmon industry. In the weeks to come, Ill highlight the benefits of eating fish + fish oil, their relationship chronic disease + nutrition, and what the current recommendations are.
My family has been immersed in the wild salmon industry for years. My dad works in the salmon industry. The rest of my family has also been involved in the fishing business at varying degrees. I spent a memorable summer as a 16 year old as a deckhand on my dad’s commercial fishing boat catching wild sockeye salmon. Each summer around the middle of June, flocks of drift netters flock to take part in the worlds greatest and largest sockeye salmon run in the world.
The salmon run lasts about 6 weeks, with the peak falling right about July 4th. According to my dad, he doesnt simply catch fish, he catches sockeye. Sockeye salmon are marked by their deep red hues, compared to the paler pink color of other salmon species. They are also leaner than other varieties like King, Pink, and Coho and offer a more distinctive flavor. Fishermen flock to this region to catch wild salmon as they are making their entrance into the rivers to spawn.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closely regulates the catch daily, to make sure proper escapements of sockeye are met so that species not just survive, but are protected for decades to come. They regulate the catch by communicating fishing openings each day to let the fisherman know when and how long they are allowed to fish. The Alaska Dept of Fish and Game enforce regulations by air and water patrol of fish openings and also by latitude/longitude boundaries of where fishing is allowed. Its definitely not a free for all, but a closely calculated operation. I mention this because I realize there is a lot of concern regarding the sustainability of wild fish, and while I dont know first hand how other fishing operations work in other regions, I do know how it works in Bristol Bay. Especially now that the EPA has rejected the Pebble Mine proposal. If youre interested in more regarding the Bristol Bay sockeye run, there is actually a documentary coming out called the Breach.
Working on a gill netter meant I lived on a 32 foot fiberglass boat. Yes. its way smaller than youd think or what you picture in your head. And 100 of these 33 feet gill-netter boats could probably fit on a huge crabbing boat like youd see on the Deadliest Catch. My days work included picking wild sockeye out of the nets, tossing them in the braler bags, operating the hydraulics that run the net give+release mechanism, delivering sockeye to the tenders for processing following an opening, sleeping little, and showering even less! I saw bears in the wild combing the beaches for food, watched hundreds of sea lions lounging around on sand flats in the bottle of bristol bay, and realized first hand how draining yet rewarding being a fisherman is.
Fishing in Bristol Bay was the experience of a lifetime and I wouldnt trade it for the world. Someday, Id love to go backbut It will have to wait a while being my current place in life!
Next week well discuss what the current research says regarding the health benefits of eating fish.
What is your favorite type of salmon? Have you ever eaten sockeye?