Welcome aboard our bowpicker, creatively named for the way we pick our fish as they roll over the bow and onto the boat. The Pelican is our home, our office, and a big investment for our livelihood as commercial fishermen. From bow to stern, the Pelican spans a meager 31 feet. Fishing in the waters outside of Cordova requires an operation of such small dimensions. We work where the Copper River meets the Gulf of Alaska, harvesting wild salmon just as they are ready to make their return up the river.
The Copper River is ferocious and lengthy, with powerful glacial water flowing through remote wilderness. Salmon build themselves to survive this journey and store rich, fatty oils before the grueling trek upstream. Positioning ourselves to catch these fish before they start swimming up river captures them at the peak of flavor, savoring that moment in time when these wild salmon are bursting with those buttery, fatty oils that melt in your mouth. Finding where to harvest these strong swimmers is no easy endeavor but our efficient, quick boat gives us the opportunity to navigate in the shallow tide and around sandbars that stretch across the mouth of the river.
As the hydraulic reel centered on the deck hauls our drift gillnet aboard, Michael and I harvest the fish out of the net one by one; individually handling each fish that has been captured by their gills in the mesh of the net. After each fish is carefully removed from the gillnet, we store them in a hold of ice water. Quality is of the utmost importance in this fishery and we are proud to work amongst a fleet of fishermen handling our catch with care and respect.
Past the gillnet reel, and beyond the fish holds, our cabin is situated at the stern of the boat. Here is our simple living quarters where everything has a place and purpose. We have a small stove to keep us warm, and dry out our gear. One large bunk sits atop the diesel engine that powers the whole operation. There’s a helm on the starboard side (right side when looking forward) with navigation equipment, radios, and gauges. A small table and bench on the port side rounds out the living space. This boat is a home and our workplace, but can feel especially small on seasons like this, where spring storms have tossed us around with reckless abandon. As we work setting our net and drifting in the ocean’s current, it’s comforting to have a mostly dry place to call home on the water.
Follow Nelly and Michael's fishing season, they'll be sharing their stories with us every Thursday here on marthastewart.com.