Tag Archives: red salmon

Fishin’ Around

Yesterday’s topic of the day was fish, which only seems appropriate, considering the people in Bethel live off of fish.

I mean that quite literally. We’ve seen this theme, living off of the fish one works hard to catch, in many of our interviews. In fact, subsistence and the king salmon fishing restrictions are the main focus of our documentary.

I heard the impact of the fishing restrictions on subsistence lifestyles today at a town hall-style meeting. It was hosted by the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, a group that makes recommendations about fishing and listens to villagers’ and city residents’ issues caused by the restrictions.

I heard lots of comments about fear of starvation and eventual death because of the restrictions. Villagers, who live both upstream and downstream, are concerned that there are no fish on their drying racks. (After a fish is caught, it is cut and then hung to dry.) One man started to yell, accusing the members that they have fish on their racks but they don’t seem to care about those who have caught nothing.

This is an example of salmon drying. This was taken at Cecilia's house; she has a small shack full of fish that have been hung to dry.
This is an example of salmon drying. This was taken at Cecilia’s house; she has a small shack full of fish that have been hung to dry.

One man went so far to “guarantee” that if the restrictions continue, lives will be in danger. He stated that people were going out with riffles. (We think he means people are attempting to shoot at Alaska State Troopers who patrol and see what people are catching, making sure they are not catching king salmon.)

We stayed for three hours of the discussion, and none of us knew how long the meeting actually lasted. We had to leave because we had a potluck dinner at the church.

Yesterday morning, the C-team got to go out on a boat with a true fisherman (it was arranged because we didn’t get to go on other adventures earlier in our trip). I was freezing. I had five sweatshirts, two layers of socks, a hat and gloves on, but my toes and fingers were still frozen by the end.

Despite the cold, it was a really cool experience. Tad, the fisherman, was going out to check his net as well as his brother-in-law’s nets. He checks them twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.

He probably caught between a dozen to 20 fish in his nets. The majority of them were red salmon.

As we watched Tad pull his nets into the boat, it was exciting every time we saw fish caught in them.
As we watched Tad pull his nets into the boat, it was exciting every time we saw fish caught in them.

He pulled his net out of the water little by little. When he came across a fish, he untangled the fish from the net. (I tried to suppress my squeals as I saw a fin or gill move.) As the fish fell to the ground of the boat, he put his pointer and middle fingers in the gills of the fish and broke them, causing the fish to bleed out of its gills. He threw them one by one in a bucket full of water.

He threw two fish on top of the bucket, explaining he would feed those fish to the dogs. These fish were rotten; they were previously caught in a net and had escaped only to run into his net.

I have to admit seeing a bucket full of fish and blood was pretty gross at times, but seeing part of the process of preparing fish is probably something I won’t ever see again.

I think back to yesterday, to the fisherman, to the commitment and effort he has to put in in order to catch food for himself and his family and how he goes through that process twice a day. It certainly made me appreciate the fish I was fed at the potluck. (The hard work the fishermen put in definitely pays off; the salmon here is absolutely amazing, by the way.) It also makes me fearful that I’m going to have a hard time going back to eating my mom’s salmon, which is bought at the grocery store.

 

A little taste of heaven.

Talk about one heck of a week. It can’t already be the end of week #1! There is so much Bethel has to offer. It is hard to explain in words my experiences so far to anyone else. Maybe thats just the Biology major in me struggling in this Journalism field. 😉

Here’s a glimpse of some of my Bethel experiences:

  1. Bethel pizza is amazing. Ramen (was amazing that first day! )and oatmeal on the other hand get kind of old after having it for one week straight.
  2. Gas is almost $7.00 a gallon.
  3. We walked to our first Bethel Saturday Market and saw all the gorgeous local native pieces of artwork, clothing such as Kuspocks, food, and tools. I bought fireweed jelly (YUM!) and some cool eskimo paintings to take back.
  4. I’ve gone to two fish camps so far and seen the delicious Red Salmon butchered right before my eyes. Call me a pro now at butchering fish.

    Behind the scenes of the camera crew filming our red salmon/dinner filleted right before we ate it. Photo by Kari Welniak
    Behind the scenes of the camera crew filming our red salmon/dinner filleted right before we ate it. Photo by Kari Welniak
  5. I had the privilege to join Nico, Tony, and one of our professors to shoot B-Roll on a fishing boat of a man and his wife while they checked their nets, bring back their fish to their fish camp, and enjoy a little taste of heaven while sitting outside watching the Alaskan sunset on the Kuskokwim river.
  6. We also stopped by the Napaskiak village and filmed some B-Roll of some kids and the Orthodox Church on our way to fish camp. This village did not have any main roads. The roads were all made of wooden boards and people drove 4-wheelers to get around!
  7. I witnessed firsthand my dinner caught in a net, brought back to a fish camp, filleted before my eyes, and barbecued on a grill right before my eyes.
  8. I love filming B-Roll!
  9. After 12 hours of filming we went back to their house and ate more fish! Salmon spread, pressure cooked salmon, and more salmon jerky!
  10. If there is an apocalypse I’m moving to Alaska and living in Bethel. These people spend June fishing and drying their fish for the winter. They spend the next few months moose hunting. And then in the fall they spend their time berry picking in the tundra. I think I’d be set for life.
  11. Tundra tea is probably the best tea I’ve ever had. Especially with a Bethel crud cold.
  12. We walked on the tundra for an hour and a half! And yes I couldn’t feel my legs the next day. Walking on a squishy mattress is exhausting!

    Taking pictures of the tundra that goes on for ever and ever and ever! Photo by Kari Welniak
    Taking pictures of the tundra that goes on for ever and ever and ever! Photo by Kari Welniak
  13. One night I managed to stay up to 3 AM and witnessed the sun set and rise all within a matter of 4 hours.
  14. Homemade berry cinnamon jam is the best thing ever!
  15. Learning Yup’ik words are so cool! Kenka means unconditional love. Quyana means Thank you. Goudak is eskimo ice cream (crisco/seal/fish oil, sugar, berries) which I still have yet to try.
  16. The river is FREEZING! I wore 6 layers on top and 3 layers on bottom when we were in the boats.
  17. We explored an old abandoned BIA boarding school which was pretty spooky.
  18. Basketball played at a fish camp with deflated basketballs, no net, and on grass is the way to play basketball. I think we can all agree the game of Knock Out will never be played the same!
  19. Showering after 5 days with no shower really does make you feel and look like a new person with all the dirt and fish smell washed away.
  20. Salmon egg salad is the way to go people.
  21. On top of all my experiences so far there is still so much to learn about the Yupik culture and native town of Bethel.

Kari’s great Alaskan adventure to be continued…Quyana!