Salmon Fisherman

May 16, 2012

Curious about how your fish got to your dinner table? Well here’s an interview with salmon fisherman John Love

John Love, 24 years old, is a commercial salmon fisherman in Whittier, Alaska. Love started out as a deckhand but enjoyed the job so much that he started his own business. He is coming up on his third year of running his own salmon-fishing boat.

How did you get into salmon fishing?

I originally got a deckhand job on a fishing boat because I wanted to make some money. I ended up loving the job and the hard work, so after three seasons as a crewman I went into business for myself. There are two common ways for fishermen to catch salmon – there is gill netting, which is where the fish get caught in the net by their gills and the fishermen pull them out one at a time, and there's purse seining, where the fisherman surrounds the fish with the net and brings the bottom of the net up to the boat, which turns the flat net into a bag (or "purse") trapping the fish in it (e.g. "purse seining"). When seining, the fish are brought aboard the boat all at once. I use the latter method. Once it's time to sell the fish, I sell to Trident Seafoods, which is the biggest buyer of fish in the area. There are about 50 purse seine boats that sell fish to Trident.

How have your fishing practices changed over the last ten years?

The big change in fishing practices over the last ten years has been care for the quality of fish. Boats that sell fish to Trident are required to have 34 degree Fahrenheit sea water in their fish hold before bringing any fish aboard. This has made a huge difference in the quality of fish from catch to market.

How will salmon fishing evolve in the next five years?

The fishing fleet is trending toward being more efficient and environmentally friendly. Many boats are upgrading engines to be more fuel-efficient. EPA regulations have now banned the use of r22 for refrigeration systems on fishing boats in hopes of becoming more environmentally friendly.

What is your greatest challenge as a fisherman?

My greatest challenge is being prepared for what the future holds, day to day and season to season. Day to day there are mechanical issues and fishing ground openers and closures that affect our fishing. Season to season there are fluctuations in fish return and market price that can make or break the bank, as well as changes in regulations that affect the way we conduct business.

How does a fisherman know what a retailer will want a year from now?

It's hard to know exactly what a retailer will want, but salmon is a good source of protein, and it's quite a bit less expensive than other seafood such as halibut, which seems to be at an unsustainable, high price right now. And the recent quality improvements that the fishermen have been making are resulting in a great product for the customer.

What steps are you taking toward conservation?

Currently I'm in the process of upgrading the generator in my boat to a newer, more fuel efficient one. Upgrades like this are taking place across the entire fishing fleet making the whole fleet more fuel-efficient.

This article originally appeared in Food Nutrition and Science.