Living aboard in Bristol Bay- An insider’s view

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay, or thought you might like to actually sign on as a deckhand? While it certainly is not the experience for everybody, for the fishermen who spend their summers on the water, there is a satisfaction you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else after a long and strenuous season.

Vessels are 32’ feet long, about the same length as two cars parked in line. A little over half of that distance is working deck space which leaves very little space for living quarters. With an average crew of 4 people, space is extremely tight and there is just enough room for 4 bunks and a small galley. Remember though, you are in Bristol Bay to fish, not sleep. Days are long and there is no set schedule-sometimes you begin to fish at 4:00 pm; other times the fish call at 4:00 am. It is this lack of predictability that can be both exhilarating and exhausting for a crew. There isn’t time to worry about much more than eating and basic personal hygiene, especially during peak season. Baby wipes become a primary form of bathing and when you do find downtime to take a shower after a week or more of hard work, it can feel like a life changing experience. It is safe to say you really get to know your crewmembers after 6 weeks of living within arms reach of each other. 

Working on deck is an intense experience. Your hands are blistered and raw – your eyes crusty from the 45-minute nap snuck in while there is a lull in intensity. But, when the majority of fish are making their way from the ocean, and the captain is barking orders from the flybridge, you get a surge of energy because you know NOW is the time to catch as many fish as possible. Rain may be blowing sideways in brisk heavy wind and rough seas easily toss the boat around, but you slip on a dry pair of socks, put on your rain gear, and get to work. 

Occasionally though, the rough seas calm down and the clouds open up to expose some sunshine. Feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin after standing in the rain for weeks, or fishing under a vivid sunset of pink and orange at 1:00 am brings a smile of joy to your face. Adding a fresh brewed cup of coffee makes the feeling that much better, it is the fuel that keeps you going through those long and exhausting days.

You feel the most satisfaction when the season comes to an end and you reflect on what it took to catch 250k+ lbs of sockeye. There are many moments while on the water that a feeling of uncertainty lingers. Will the fish show up? Many fishermen depend on this income to get them through the rest of the year, so things that threaten the return of sockeye, such as Pebble Mine, truly do feel daunting. We are betting on mother nature after all, right?  

It is the many facets of Bristol Bay, difficult and thrilling, that keep us coming back. Fishing is in our blood and we are proud to be the fisherman bringing wild caught salmon from our nets to your table. Thank you for your continued support of what we do!

Cheers,

The folks at Pride of Bristol Bay

Summer Recap- Our 2019 season in Bristol Bay

The fishermen of Pride of Bristol Bay saw a busy, successful season! 

“Patience is the word of the year.” 

Most people will never know the intensity of working on a gill netter in Alaska; it is a unique and exciting experience! We wanted to give you our take on the Bristol Bay season aboard our summer home to shed some light on our dedication to sustainability and quality in our product. 

“Patience is the word of the year,” said Captain Steve Kurian of the F/V Ava Jane as he reflected on this year’s Bristol Bay salmon season.

Many of you who fish for fun may be familiar with this feeling, but on the commercial grounds it can feel like it all happens at once and that no patience is required. Well, that was not the case this year as the weather was “hot, dry and flat” according to the fishermen. This change in situation required captains and crews put in extra effort to seek out the fish and steadily pick their way through the gear towards a successful season. 

Most bay fishermen enjoyed a lack of rough weather this year, but the fish follow those patterns as well. If the Bering Sea blows a strong wind into the river system, the fish certainly come with it. When there’s a light, consistent breeze, the fish make their way to their spawning grounds upriver from the fishing districts as always – just at a bit of a slower pace. As the Alaska General Seafood – Naknek beach boss, Joe Stewart put it on the final KDLG Fisheries Report of the year,

“It was a great season,” Stewart said. “Record number of fish, very steady, not the big waves of fish like usual.“ That was the experience on the Ava Jane this year, which served the new guys very well. This way, there was a bit more time to learn the ropes and get their sea legs.

Pride of Bristol Bay is grateful for the fish that came through as well as the local community who supported the team when the boat had a brief, but significant electrical breakdown. Yet again, patience was the word of the year. The boat was towed into Naknek by another member of the fleet (a tender) and fixed within just a few days. Thankfully, this occurred early on, and she was back in operation on June 26th. 

On a bay-wide level, the returns of sockeye are encouraging for ocean health. The Bristol Bay watershed saw a total run of 56.3 million salmon return to the river system this year. The harvest was the second largest on record, distributed in five river systems and closely monitored by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Again, this year saw another strong run in a world of much uncertainty. The weight of Pebble Mine, and the disappointing summer news about backroom (or Air Force One) deals, certainly weighed on the summer, but we are encouraged by an uptick in mobilizing around the issue in the community – noting more t-shirts, flags, and stickers rocking the bold “No Pebble Mine” logo. 

Thanks to all of you who share our dedication, and for following along with this issue on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We see you working to spread the message to your friends and family.  Finally, we thank you for your patience as we found our own sea legs over the past year. Keep an eye on our social media as we share more about summers lived by the wind, tide and fish!  

Bristol Bay Alaska

Wheels Up: Bristol Bay Bound

Captain Steve spent last week in Naknek, Alaska, the F/V Ava Jane’s winter home. This time of year, the boatyard is crawling out of its winter hibernation. In a month, it will be bustling with activity, especially at high tide, as boat after boat gets launched into the bay in order to start fishing.

Steve wanted to get a head start on a few boat projects, so he headed up early, to prepare on a quiet boatyard, where he can get some work done, instead of visiting with the whole fleet at the cannery Mug-Up. To get a taste of the tundra landscape at the coastal Bristol Bay boatyard days, check out this video that Filson made in the Dillingham boatyard last year.  

As of recently, the overall state forecast for wild Alaska salmon is exceptional: experts predict a catch of 213.2 million fish statewide. In Bristol Bay, the 2018 season broke records – the sockeye salmon harvest was 10% above predictions and the largest seen on record. Last year will be a tough year to beat. However, experts are still predicting historically large returns following a banner year, and a 2019 forecast of 40.18 million sockeye returning to Bristol Bay. This is still 16% above the average run (1963-2018). Most importantly, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game predictions expect “all [Bristol Bay river systems] to meet their spawning escapement goals,” meaning that the health of the overall run and ecosystem is looking sustainably strong. We are thrilled.

No matter the forecast, the pre-season work remains the same. The boatyard is waking up, and the salmon are heading back to their original spawning grounds. The Pride of Bristol Bay team is getting ready to fish!

A Note for You, Pride of Bristol Bay Customers

Dear Pride of Bristol Bay customers,

Likely you have noticed some changes in recent months with our fisherman-owned, Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon company. Via our National Home Delivery program, those of you who have ordered more than likely have noticed those shipments coming from Bloomsburg, PA. Pride of Bristol Bay has joined up with another family & fisherman-owned, sustainable seafood company called Wild for Salmon, who share Pride of Bristol Bay’s high sustainability standards but also more general business philosophies and the desire to bring wild salmon to more people at an affordable price while supporting the environment from which they come.

“It has been a privilege for the past 5 years to share the story of Bristol Bay and help all of you adorn your dinner tables with wild caught Bristol Bay sockeye. With that said, I’m honored to introduce you to a new pair of Salmon Champions!” – Pride of Bristol Bay Founder Matt Luck

Our names are Steve & Jenn Kurian, and we are excited to introduce ourselves as the new owners of Pride of Bristol Bay.

We cooked up this idea with Matt on the banks of a Bristol Bay river, weeks after the commercial fishing season had ended, after we’d both caught up on sleep and were beginning to switch gears to our respective direct markets. We will share more about our original family-owned business, our 15+ years of gillnetting in Bristol Bay and our love of wild salmon as well as our east-coast roots in the coming months. Today we want to, more importantly, assure all of you that we share the same passionate commitment to Bristol Bay and its amazing wild salmon run with Matt & the team at Pride of Bristol Bay….which is why we, and our companies, are Wildly Devoted.

Please feel free to respond to this email with comments or questions and know that we are looking forward to getting to know many of you in the coming months while continuing to share the same great product you have all come to love. Thank you for embracing us and our salmon-fueled family business with open arms and to the Luck family for trusting us.

Our very best,

Matt, Steve & Jenn