It’s part of our career to live in uncertainty, working as commercial fishermen onboard a small boat harvesting wild Alaska salmon. The ocean’s an unpredictable place. We feel lucky to be considered an essential service, but going into this season, which started at the beginning of May, we faced the usual question of how much wild salmon we would catch and also the question of how do we get the fish we catch directly to customers amid restaurant closures and supply chain disruption.
When the pandemic started hitting Washington state, where we spend the winter season, we were already in a period of transition. Every spring, we head back to Cordova, Alaska, for the commercial fishing season, so we spent much of April anxiously trying to figure out how to safely return to our isolated community to go to work. We ended up completing the state’s mandatory two-week quarantine on a boat from Washington before reaching our harbor in Cordova. We’re used to working together just the two of us on our boat, but in the harbor we’re all now wearing masks and using hand-washing stations installed between our boats, knowing we have to do everything we can to keep this place safe and operating.
Our biggest concern right away has been about our fresh market opportunities. Throughout a normal summer season, we ship fresh salmon straight off our boat to restaurants across the country. Now, if they’re still operating, restaurants have pivoted to relying on customer pre-orders, which means chefs can’t place the spontaneous orders from us that they used to. The salmon return has been slow-going starting into the season, but everything could also change in a week or two if we have a big day of fishing out on the water. We’re thankful that we’ve been able to sell the few fresh fish we’ve caught to spots in Seattle creating at-home dinner kits. We’re exploring expanding our smoked and tinned fish provisions—which we ship across the country throughout winter—with our surplus of fish from this loss of restaurant accounts.
We’ve also been operating a community supported fishery for the past six years, wherein folks pre-order a share of the catch and then receive a box of flash-frozen Copper River Salmon at the end of our season. The deposits for their boxes directly fund what it takes for us to catch and process the fish, fuel for the boat, packaging, and the logistics to bring it to Washington for disbursement. Running our CSF this season has been a huge part of keeping us afloat during this, providing us with some stability and income. But one of our biggest questions—which we’re honestly kind of putting off––is what that distribution will look like in the fall. One of the most special parts of our business is a dinner series where we gather to celebrate the end of our season and hand out the CSF boxes. It looks like that won’t be happening this year.