Story by Sarah Sibley
Most of us purchase salmon from the grocery store. However, do you know where that salmon comes from? A wide variety is available: fresh, frozen or smoked, farm-raised or wild, king, sockeye, coho, pink or chum. But now a Guemes Island couple has introduced a kind of farm-to-table approach for salmon. Called Drifters Fish, it is a community supported fishery (CSF), considered the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. It connects you directly with delicious, sustainably harvested, traceable salmon, all caught via driftnet.
Michael and Nelly Hand have been harvesting wild salmon from the pristine waters of the Prince William Sound in Cordova, Alaska, as Drifters Fish for five years. The couple splits their time between Guemes Island, north of Anacortes, and Cordova, Alaska. Both have Alaskan fishing backgrounds—Nelly grew up on her family’s fishing boat, and Michael worked on a boat since 2006. Craving more ownership and a relationship to what they were doing, they purchased a boat and started their company.
A CSF mirrors community-supported agriculture. Customers buy a share in order to financially support the people harvesting their food. In this case, it’s fish. Four years ago, Drifters created their program in an effort to connect more people with sustainably caught, wild Alaskan salmon. Nelly explains that they had always brought salmon home for the winter to share with friends, or for locals to purchase, and then friends shared it with more friends and the demand grew. “We realized we could connect with our community, where we lived in the winter, and bring them fish to eat.” Nelly investigated CSF programs in other areas (California’s Bay Area and the Oregon coast), and found that no one in the Pacific Northwest was doing this.
You can join the CSF for as little as $100 for a five-pound share or as much as $339 for a 20-pound share. All shares include recipes, a cedar grilling plank, San Juan Sea Salt, and updates throughout the summer about the fishing season. “You are investing in a traceable, sustainable fishery, so we will be fishing whatever we can sustainably harvest,” Nelly says. “You can trace exactly where your fish came from, so it’s food you can trust. But we don’t exactly know what the ocean will give us each year. It’s a wild card, but that’s all part of being a part of an honest fishery.”
In March, they start accepting orders, which requires a 50 percent down payment. Then Michael and Nelly head to their summer home aboard their two fishing vessels in Cordova. They return in October to distribute the salmon to CSF members.
The relationship Drifters cultivates with their customer is evident by how they tell their story through social media, sharing the minutia, the drama, the highs and the lows of salmon fishing. When back on Guemes, the couple often have pop-ups at local stores where you can sample and can purchase their canned and smoked salmon. Their fish is featured on menus at many restaurants in Seattle, and at BelleWood Acres in Lynden.