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A Day in the Life: Fishing on the Mighty Yukon Posted on 06 Nov 12:44

A few months ago, we introduced you to the incredible team we sent into the heart of Alaska to build us a buying station. They worked all summer in St. Mary's so that we can buy delicious, Omega-3 packed wild Yukon River salmon from the independent fishermen that fish the mighty Yukon. Need a quick refresher? Watch this video:

Now, we're excited to give you a peek into a day in the life in St. Mary's working this station 60 miles up the Yukon River from Alaska's Bering Sea.

Kipp Baratoff, co-founder of Fishpeople, stands atop a rock outcropping high above the Yukon River. He is speaking with Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) on the phone about a potential opening on the river to Keta Salmon fishing the next day. They discussed the big pulse of fish running up the river, how many were caught the day before, and how long ADF&G was considering opening the river to the gill net fishers of the “Y-2” section. The wind is blowing 50 miles an hour sending tall plumes of soil into the air from sand bars on the river below.

Greenlight! Fishermen head out onto the broad back of the Yukon the following morning, loading their nets, gas and ice in anticipation of a two-hour Salmon fishing opener that afternoon. Multiple villages of Yupik People live on this stretch of the Yukon and these salmon are one of the primary ways to earn an income. After 40 years, the only fish buyer and processor in this section of the river closed its doors. This year, Fishpeople established our landing in St. Mary's, saving the fishermen a roughly 100-mile round trip to deliver their fish to the next closest buyer around. It's a win-win: we're thrilled to bring the unparalleled flavor and oil content of the legendary Wild Yukon River Salmon to the people of the lower 48 states.

Loading up. Captain John Tinker and his puller Carlie Fitka load the gill net from a location on the rocky beach where it's stored. The openings in these nets are designed to target Yukon Keta salmon and let other species pass through. John and Carlie's sturdy 19-foot welded aluminum skiff is powered by a 225 horsepower Yamaha that allows them to move fast to where the fish are. 

Time to catch those fish. At a river location near Pilot Station (named after the steam ship captains that piloted the only means of transport on the river long ago), John puts the boat in reverse and Carlie throws out the leaded sinker line against the buoy. Moments later he secures the end of the net to the boat which drifts slowly down the river, meeting the fish as they move upstream against it. This catch method is a type of gill netting known as a drift net. 

The pay off! An 8-pound Keta salmon comes on board showing its early “par” marks, a sure sign that it's getting ready to spawn. This drift brings 80 fish on board, then John and Carlie pick up the net and head back upstream for another run. The eagles and osprey fly overhead and the water is glassy calm reflecting brilliant white cloud towers over the tundra.

Passing the salmon baton. The day is done and after an hour and a half on the river, John and his son Sonny pose with their beloved Keta at Fishpeople’s Yukon River landing, where our crew will help them offload their salmon and transfer them to ice-packed totes. Sonny introduces himself as “Steph Curry Jr., the 3-point guy."

Coming to land: The fish are loaded into a woven “brailer” by the boat crews to be lifted up to shore. Each fish is counted by Fishpeople's landing crew, weighed, and temped to make sure they have been kept nice and cold and are of the best quality.

Into the totes! The brailer is then hoisted by our boom onto land and guided to our insulated blue totes, each one capable of holding about 800 lbs of fish each. The bottom of the brailer is opened and the fish fall into a super chilled solution of flake ice and salt water called a "slurry", where they will remain until being drained and shipped to Anchorage for processing. Dozens of boats fished for Fishpeople on this day and brought in 30,000 lbs of this amazing fish, so we could get it into your homes and you could turn it into dishes like this: 

 

Wild Salmon with Shallot Butter Sauce


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