We’re so excited to read about Alden’s adventure as it unfolds, and to share it with you, our Fair Shares members, who will get to partake in the fruits of his labors. Alden is Sara and Stephen Hale’s nephew, from New England, who is fishing with our very own Wild Alaska Salmon and Seafood crew this summer! Whaaat? Yeah, very cool, and here’s Alden’s first entry for your reading enjoyment…
Connecting the Dots: From New England to the Midwest to Alaska. This is my Fishing Story
Part 1: How did I get here? How did your food get there?
Growing up, I spent every summer on MacMahan Island on the Maine coast. Surrounded by water and more lobster traps than one can count, I never took to fishing. I spent my time in the dirt, building treehouses, racing golf carts, and scrambling around on the ocean cliffs. On the water, I was always going somewhere, usually at full-throttle, weaving slalom style through the endless sea of buoys. The black-orange-white ones were my favorite to find, each being a tell-tale that I was still in range of Captain Crunch (Charlie Moore). His toothless ear-to-ear grin aboard his bright orange boat with Captain Crunch painted bold across the stern will always be one of my favorite sights. Salty, as local as local gets.
Every afternoon Charlie would stop by the island before taking his catch to market. A few times a week my grandmother would tell me, “Take the golf cart and cooler and go get ten pound-and-a-quarter lobsters for dinner, would you? Captain Crunch will be at the West Float at 4pm.”
To me, Charlie defined what it meant to be a fisherman, and I was hooked on knowing not just the source, but the faces that put food on my table. Every meal eaten and dollar spent is a vote cast. A vote for the body, the planet, the community, and in this case, for your fisherman. Every meal is an opportunity to get closer to and learn something about each link of the chain from farm or boat to you. Can you connect the dots of your last meal? How about dinner tonight?
On a climbing trip to Alaska in the summer of 2019, it hit me that I needed to come back. Not to climb, but to learn how to fish. I was blown away at the sight of hundreds of fisherman standing shoulder to shoulder lining the banks at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers. The scale of the mountains, rivers, and fisheries they support was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I needed to experience it first hand. How can one corner of the world sustainably produce so much of the world’s wild caught salmon?
A foreign world to me, I didn’t quite know where to start. So, I told everyone I talked to that I planned on fishing in Alaska this coming summer.
“How? Where? With whom?”
“I have no idea,” I would say. Yet I knew it would happen. And these questions were quickly answered at Thanksgiving when I told my Aunt Sara about my intended plan.
In 2008, sisters Sara Hale and Jamie Choler started Fair Shares Combined Community Supported Agriculture (CCSA) in St Louis, Missouri with the goal of “helping more people gain access to fresh, local, seasonal, and sustainably produced food in the St Louis area”. Veggies from Keith Biver, honey from Albert Hilty, chicken from Matt Tiefenbraun at Buttonwood Farms, and Salmon from Tony Wood and Wild Alaska Salmon and Seafood; you name it, they can tell you the name of the person responsible for producing it. Sara told me about Tony and Wild Alaska Salmon and Seafood and I was on the phone the next day sharing my story and learning Tony’s.
You might be wondering, how is wild salmon from Alaska considered local in St. Louis? Well, Tony Wood is the reason why. Born and raised right across the river in Illinois, Tony has been living and fishing in Alaska for the last 30 years and has been bringing his catch back to his winter home in the Midwest since 2002. From fishing to processing to shipping his catch to your door, Tony does it all.
This year, due to COVID, the early season has been unique to say the least. Since our arrival on May 18th, our group of 9 has taken every precaution possible to avoid introducing the virus to this remote community. We were each tested twice, once upon arrival and again at the end of our 14-day quarantine, all testing negative. Released from quarantine, we are still practicing social distancing and are limiting our exposure to public spaces and local people.
We’ve had a long list of projects to tick off before the fish get here, because once they do we’ll be so busy that anything that breaks or is left undone will get pushed to the side. Any flaking paint has been scraped and painted, torn nets mended, alternators replaced, leaky tires on the mini-van fleet plugged, knives sharpened and ready on-deck. We have finished prepping and are all getting stir crazy, ready to go fishing. Tony’s boat, the Mad Max, will be in the water this week. We’ll be under way before long, on a mission to feed the world.
I’ll follow up as the season progresses! In the meantime, check out Fair Shares and Wild Alaska Salmon and Seafood websites to learn more, and while you’re there, order some fish!
Fair Shares: https://fairshares.org/
Wild Alaska Salmon and Seafood https://wildalaskasalmonandseafood.com/
Naknek River, King Salmon, AK