Fishin’ with Len

Went gillnetting with Len Peterson, owner of Taku River Reds, from whom I get fish. We fished the Taku River. The gillnetters are going to do well this year. Keta prices are way up this year – 60 cents/lb at the dock for whole fish. Keta are prized for their roe, and the roe market is strong.

Unfornutately, Len is after sockeye, which are just not showing. We were getting a dozen a day, when this peak week Len said he should be getting 100 a day. So we’ll have to see if they’re late or not coming.

Gillnetting is quite unlike trolling. You set the net, and usually let it soak an hour or so before bringing it back in, picking the fish out, and resetting it. Trolling, by definition, means you are on the move all day.

I helped pick the fish out of the net – which is an art unto itself. After a couple decades, Len can unwrap a fish and maneuveur the net and suddenly the fish is out of the net laying on the deck and I had no clue how he got there – like solving a Chinese puzzle.

My job was to clean everything (sockeye, coho, king and pink) except the keta, which are sold whole. I put the keta whole into slushed ice holds. After bleeding and dressing the few sockeye, etc. we got, I then scrubbed the cleaning trays and fish totes with a bleach solution, and we were ready to go again for the next time we picked the net.

The wind was smoking down in the outlet, so we kept up the inlet a ways, where I wasn’t bothered by the chop. The water there wasn’t as active as water where you troll, where generally there is the combination of birds diving on feed and the occasional whale or seal or sea lion that make trolling such a privledge.

I had orders for about 700 lbs of sockeye to local Juneauites, but it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to fill them this year. Len and his fishing partners barely caught (or may not catch) enough fish to fill their weekly markets, so I’ve already notified my customers that it won’t likely happen. Not much we can do about it, but I do like it that people otherwise somewhat unlinked to the sea here now feel what it’s like for fishermen or a fish run to have an “off” year when I can’t get them their fish. Some of these same folks will rally behind conservation measures, if needed, at some later point when they have to search elsewhere, rather than right in their backyard, to get their protein – whether they catch it, or rely on their local fishermen to provide it.