Know Your Source Know Your Fisherman
Know Your Source, Know your fisherman.
When people ask me what I do, I give it to them straight.
“I kill fish for a living.”
After all, it’s true. How’s that for transparency?
At age eighteen, I boarded an airplane for the first time and landed in Sitka, Alaska. I was to replace my brother who had been injured while fishing for halibut and take his place on a salmon troller. That was all it took—I was hooked. Since that inaugural commercial fishing adventure 35 years ago, I have spent every 4th of July in Alaska, smack in the middle of the traditional peak fishing for salmon in Bristol Bay.
Fishing paid my way through college. It provided me with not only a living, but an unexpected career and the eventual fulfillment of a long-time dream. Today, I am the captain of a 32 foot Sockeye Salmon gill-netter named the Anasazi.
Fishing also introduced me to the politics (and the shenanigans) of the seafood industry.
Along the way, I have been lucky to wear many different hats. I have crewed on 130 foot factory long-liners fishing for Pacific Cod in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and for Black Cod in the Gulf of Alaska. I’ve fished for herring in the Togiak and harvested Sea Monkeys on the Great Salt Lake.
I worked my way up in a processing plant from the “slime line” to the first line of Quality Control for Halibut and Black Cod and salmon. I served as Logistics Coordinator for a shipping company where I oversaw labor. I was a founding board member for Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association for five years, through which we aided in funding scientific research, run management, and quality programs.
Being well versed in Quality Control has taken me all over Alaska, the continental US, Asia, and Europe. Fishing is hard work, but the industry never fails to offer adventure—even on dry land.
When the sockeye fishing season ends in Bristol Bay, I return home to the dried ancient ocean of red rock desert, in Moab, Utah. Hundreds of miles from the closest coast, it couldn’t be more different from Alaska. It’s known for its slick rock mountain biking, river rafting, and petrified dinosaur bones—not its seafood.
Living in such a place has brought my attention to a circumstance that many Americans can relate to. It has challenged me to mitigate my experience and knowledge of the industry with my land-locked options—ultimately inspiring Alaska Select Seafoods.
Who knew a trip down the seafood aisle of my local grocery store would lead to the next big adventure?
Self-stocked with my top Alaskan picks, I never had to shop for seafood at my local grocery store. I never even visited the aisle until a couple years ago when my brother Terry came to visit. A late night conversation on my favorite topic (fish!) sparked our curiosity. What did this small, globally-sought out, landlocked tourist destination have to offer from the ocean? The next day, as we were picking up a few dinner items, we decided to scope it out so I could share my knowledge with him.
I think I was more shocked and concerned than Terry by what we found. What may appear to be normal to some left my thirty-five years of knowledge feeling disappointed and confused.
We don’t know what we don’t know.
I had no idea this spontaneous journey through my local grocery store in Moab, Utah, would have such a profound impact on me. I realized that the convoluted presentation of information was no accident on the industry’s part. Where did the fish come from, and when was it caught? Is it actually farmed? Was it shipped across the globe and thawed out and refrozen during processing? Has it been injected with substances to replace lost water weight? I knew what to look for and which questions to ask, but the answers were still riddles to me. How could the average consumer stand a chance?
My newest hat: Consumer Education
My experience at the supermarket that day lit a tiny ember of desire to do something about what I discovered. I wanted to change something, but what?
I found, read (and highly recommend) Paul Greenburg’s book American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood. Greenburg’s life work connected the dots for me. With the bigger picture in mind, I realized how valuable my own experience could be. That ember turned into a burning flame, and I began to hone in on a new mission: Consumer Education.
The only way I see to catalyze change in this situation is to pull back the veil and expose a necessary transparency of an industry that ranges from confusing to outright wrought with fraud. [A study between 2010 and 2012 showed that 1/3 of all fish sold in US restaurants and grocery stores were mislabeled].
Greenberg’s book claimed that 90% of the seafood consumed by the United States was being imported from other countries. My gut outright rejected that. There was just no way I could believe that to be true (considering the United States controls more coastlines and oceans than any other country in the world). I researched it immediately and to my dismay, not only was that true, but it was also true that less than 3% of that 90% was being inspected by the FDA! As I dug deeper, I found more disturbing information.
(An example of mislabeling: “Wild Caught Atlantic Salmon.” There are no wild Atlantic Salmon commercial fisheries. Today, all commercially sold Atlantic salmon are farm raised)
My intention is to use this site to discuss a wide range of topics which will include health and nutrition, industry issues like “fresh” vs. frozen, labeling, green washing, quality across the board, along with broader issues like sustainability and international trade. I’ll cover basic fishing practices and methods, info about fish in general, and some of my own personal experiences and stories.
I have never considered myself an activist, and the last thing I want to be is an alarmist. There is enough fear-mongering, enough half-truths, and enough straight-up fraud in my industry. I do not want to add to all that. However, it has become clear to me that there is a huge disconnect between the seafood industry and the seafood consumer. I believe only good can come out of addressing that—for the consumers, for the industry, for the future of fish as a wild food source.
Wonderful read. Thank you.
What an interesting story. There are so many ways you could have gone from the fishing experience at such a young age. Thanks for sharing and for your efforts to share your knowledge and resources! Looking forward to more blogs.