Commercial fishing requires a lot more than sea legs and a sturdy boat. I knew this, but I re-learned it first-hand this past week.
I’ve just returned from several days in the extraordinarily scenic Alaskan fishing town of Cordova, where I got a broad and in-depth perspective of where one of my favorite seafood items – Copper River salmon – comes from and how it’s managed by the fisherman and the State of Alaska.
A healthy fishing community DOES take a village.
“People are really letting us take care of their fish,” said Mike Poole, part of Cordova’s fleet since 1978 and a former member of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association’s board. “It’s the public’s natural resource, and we are privileged to fish it.”
Interestingly, the chain-restaurant demand for fish and seafood has been growing. A survey in 2011 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute found “a steady increase in consumption at chain restaurants” with 36 percent of consumer respondents saying they ate more than two years before, and 58 percent saying they ate the same amount.
And with salmon, especially, more diners are choosing the highly beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids found in wild-caught salmon, especially those in extremely chilly waters that have stored up fat to make the journey to spawning areas hundreds of miles up streams like the glacier-fed Copper River near Cordova.
The fishermen and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game work together to assure that the stocks of delicious sockeye and other salmon remain sustainable and available to future fishermen and diners.
Robert Beedle, a longtime drift gill-net fisherman in Cordova, graciously allowed us to accompany him out into the Gulf of Alaska for a half-day fishing trip, fortified with the tastiest homemade “Hott Crackers,” the ideal spicy-saltine-based deck snack created by his wife, April.
“It’s as important to know where fish aren’t as much as where they are,” he advised on the deck of his shiny new boat, the Cedar Bay. Beedle netted four lovely salmon and a wide number of flounder on our short trip. (A seal ate one of the salmon out of the net, so I count five as our haul. The flounder were rescued and thrown back into the drink.)
Here’s a brief look at my short sea-faring life: