Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Time to organize

It's funny to me how some people in the Bristol Bay fishery have short memories. Since about the early 1990s, the major processors have gotten into the habit of not posting a price, or "settling up" after the fishing season. Although this hasn't always been the practice in the Bay, it has become accepted as "it's always been done that way." I think that this practice of not posting a price hurts fishermen, as many of them make serious upfront investments and can't even remotely predict the payout based on price. But, what can fishermen do about it? There are few processors, and many of them are locked into strict contracts that dictate that they will only sell to that processor. One potential solution is to market a portion of one's catch directly, and establish your own markets for your fish. It seems like an impossible task, but by collaborating, fishermen working together can achieve economies of scale that will help them be competitive in this arena. This season was one of the best seasons in terms of volume, and one of the worst in terms of price in many years. With the rough weather, people were literally risking their lives to bring a top quality salmon product to market, and not realizing that they were putting all this effort in for only $0.50 per pound. It only adds insult to injury when Bristol Bay fishermen get to witness the prices that their prized sockeye salmon commands down south in the lower-48. It's not uncommon to see sockeye selling for $15-16 per pound in stores, and upwards of $20 or more in places like Whole Foods, or in high end gourmet food stores. The fact of the matter is that in Bristol Bay, we have what in economics terms can be characterized as an oligopoly - a small group of processors who essentially dictate the market conditions. The major processors dictate not only the price (at the end of the season, when the fishermen have already pumped money into expensive RSW systems, new fish holds, new engines, etc.), but they also dictate when the fishermen can fish, and how many pounds they can deliver in a day or a tide. In a good season, the fishermen are constrained in their economic earning ability by arbitrary limits that have very little to do with processing capacity, and more to do with the market price of fresh sockeye salmon on the marketplace. So, what is a Bristol Bay fishermen to do? Many critics of the current economic system have called for "organizing," with very little details of what that means. I would like to propose that fishermen join a cooperative whose ideals are furthering collaboration, lowering costs of production, and providing a resource to small, independent direct market fishermen and small processors catering more to unique, niche markets (and are able to pay fishermen who deliver to them a more reasonable ex-vessel price). Although it's not an easy way out by any means, fishermen can start having a portion of their fish custom processed for marketing on their own. Nakeen Homepack, Wild Alaska Salmon and Seafood, and Naknek Family Fisheries all provide custom processing services in Naknek during the salmon season. These small processors are very willing to help fishermen out with the logistics and marketing of their products. If you are interested in learning more about the Bristol Bay Seafood Marketing Cooperative, you can shoot me a quick email at and I will add you to our listserv. We have a Google Group called "Bristol Bay Salmon Marketing Collaborative." You can search for us at We are actively recruiting members, and would like start consolidating freight orders and sharing crucial information before the 2016 salmon season. Potential members have already indicated that they would like to consolidate an order on insulated totes. There are several other key resources out there for fishermen looking to get into marketing their fish directly. The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program provides free information through their extensive network of agents around the state, and also has some informative publications at their website at Another excellent resource for marketing fish directly is For a nominal fee, direct market fishermen and small processors can have a banner ad on their website, and can learn important information regarding licensing and permitting. A new website that I developed for fishermen just getting started in the direct marketing business is I developed this website to answer basic questions that I was fielding about licensing and permitting of fisheries products. I hope to see many of my old fishing friends at Pacific Marine Expo. If you would like to sign up as a member of the cooperative then, I will be happy to provide more detailed information and discuss some of your long-term goals for your fisheries business. Izetta Chambers is the founding member of Naknek Family Fisheries. She is a consultant and advisor for many small direct market fishing operations, and has helped fishermen and small business owners get started in marketing their catch directly. Izetta can be reached at (520) 488-9814 or through email at

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The end of speculation in the Bristol Bay Salmon fishery?

Probably not, but perhaps a start. I don't for a minute believe that I am on the only person with ties to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery completely irritated that the price of fish doesn't get posted until the end of the season. What other industry or business relationship does that? Does a person go into a restaurant not knowing the price of things on the menu? Well, may "market price" for seafood, but if you ask the server, they will tell you the price on that day. Not in the Bristol Bay salmon industry. You get your check at the end of the season, when fishermen are informed of the price. Well, perhaps this will start to change. As the Pacific salmon fishery starts its slow and gradual decline in numbers (all part of a natural 20-year cycle, called the Pacific Decadal Occillation (PDO), Bristol Bay sockeye begins its gradual uptick in price, along with a natural downswing in harvested salmon. This cycle was disrupted in the early 1990's primarily due to the advent of farmed salmon in the marketplace, and a preference for home-grown chum salmon (prized for their eggs) in Japan. However, the Bristol Bay salmon fishery has come back from this serious threat to the economic viability of salmon fishing with major improvements in quality, increased availability of ice (many thank to BBEDC and their investments in ice machines around Bristol Bay for that!), and advancements made in domestic marketing. We have shifted the balance of power from Japanese buyers to American consumers, with now over 60% of Alaska salmon being consumed domestically, compared to over 90% being bought by Japanese buyers in the past. However, the balance of power still lies primarily in the hands of salmon buyers in Bristol Bay, not with the fishermen who are risking their lives to bring this live-giving protein source to market. Well, my prediction is that in 2014, this is going to start to change. With smaller canneries breaking ranks with the "good ole' boys" club of the Seattle 7, we are starting to witness a period of more fair dealings with the fishing fleet. Prices will be posted - speculation on the fresh and frozen markets will be diminished, and fishermen will have a choice of who they would like to sell their catch to - on any given day. This is the essence and the spirit of a free market economy. The oligopoly that has characterized the Bristol Bay fishery is starting to be torn down, because it doesn't work. With fewer fish out there to catch, the competition will be for fishing fleet. Canneries are going to have to "sweeten the deal" a little bit more. Some canneries have starting offering mug up again to their fishing fleet. Others may move to offering free ice and other amenities for quality improvement. I have heard rumors that one new company is offering a signing bonus for fishermen to join their fleet. (Just make sure that the check doesn't bounce!) I have often been treated with derision and scorn when I make speculations and predictions about the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. I mean, after all, what do I know? I'm only a girl with over 30 years experience of either participating peripherally or actively in this fishery either as a fishing family member, a seafood marketer, a salmon fisherman, and a seafood processor. But, I'm still a girl. And this is still a man's fishery. But, that might be changing too. 2014 is bound to be an interesting year for all. Personally, I am betting on the fishermen to come out on top and to finally be empowered to deal as free agents in a free market system. One can only hope.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Comments to EPA - deadline is May 31st, 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

I offer these comments in response to the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and the proposed Pebble Mine.  I want to first thank the Environmental Protection Agency for listening to the voice of the people in the region, for undertaking this watershed assessment and for utilizing peer-reviewed science in their assessment. 

I encourage the EPA to uphold the considerations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in their decision-making process.  And there is a decision to be made – whether to sit by idly and allow this thing to come into existence, ultimately wiping out our world-famous sustainable sockeye and Chinook salmon runs, or whether to exercise their 404(c) veto power and exempt the highly productive Bristol Bay watershed area from mining.  The fate our region and future generations of Bristol Bay residents, commercial and subsistence fishermen are counting on you to make the right decision. 

NEPA requires federal agencies to “use all practicable means” to do the following:
1.      Fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations;
2.      Assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings;
3.      Attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences;
4.      Preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity, and variety of individual choice;
5.      Achieve a balance between population and resource use which will permit high standards of living and a wide sharing of life’s amenities; and
6.      Enhance the quality of renewable resources and approach the maximum attainable recycling of depletable resources. 

If EPA does not exercise their 404(c) authority, and allows the Pebble Mine (and subsequent future mines) to be developed, it will be in breach of its duty to future generations, because subsequent generations of residents and commercial fishermen will be deprived of the privilege of harvesting our life-giving salmon from the rich Bristol Bay waters.  The Watershed Assessment indicated that there is an inherent risk with mining operations, and with the introduction of culverts, roads, oil spills (some of which have already happened), and other such disturbances to the watershed, there WILL be an impact that will be measurable, and likely irreversible.  The Pacific Northwest has been struggling to rebuild their salmon stocks after the introduction of hydroelectric dams in the region and other such disturbances, such as logging, population growth, mining, and roads.  It is practically impossible to rebuild stocks once they are damaged beyond a certain point.  Studies on runoff originating from copper from brake pads on roads in Oregon indicate that salmon are extremely susceptible to minute quantities of copper.  Because this is a copper mine being proposed, this should be a huge red flag to the EPA that this is an unsustainable project that will result in depletion of our salmon resources for future generations.

Allowing Pebble Mine to be permitted by the State of Alaska (who has never denied a large mine permit to date), would violate NEPA’s second requirement, as it would result in an unsafe and unproductive area.  The mining executives have touted the term “no net loss” in their propaganda, but I find it completely disingenuous that they can simply “create” wetlands.  There is no such thing as “no net loss” as the loss will be to the 22 square miles of disturbed area that the mine would create.  Once it is disturbed, it will never be restored to its original natural productive state.  It will be not only “unaesthetic”, but downright ugly.  The tens of thousands of visitors who come to these river systems, paying thousands of dollars for the vacation of a lifetime will not appreciate a 2 mile wide open pit mine.  Additionally, the dust and other disturbances will disturb the migrating caribou and moose, and will translate to dust particles of toxic heavy metals blowing onto our pristine tundra areas where people currently pick berries and do their hunting. 

The Bristol Bay watershed area has been providing wild salmon for the people, and for thousands of commercial fishermen who come to the region to harvest the catch for hundreds of years.  The use of this area for productive salmon rearing habitat is the highest beneficial use possible.  Mining is one of the riskiest occupations in the world.  Based on past predictions of water quality, 75% of the time, the mining companies have gotten their water quality predictions wrong.  For instance, the Pebble Partnership has touted highly that salmon and mining can co-exist, but 3 out of 4 past mines tell us a very different story.  There are literally dozens of instances where mining operations have either harmed or completely destroyed fisheries around the world.  I would hope that EPA would learn from the mistakes of other mines that have failed and not go down that road.  Bristol Bay is too precious to simply throw away to mining.

The Bristol Bay subsistence way of life is a historic and cultural stronghold for the indigenous people of the region.  Throughout the past several hundred years of genocide, introduced disease, forced assimilation, and cultural change, one constant binds the indigenous people to the land – the subsistence resources that bring families together to share in the harvesting, processing, and preserving of the catch.  Our salmon resources are a tremendous opportunity for our families to work together, from elders to pass on the knowledge of this important food, and for us to laugh and work together.  Some of my most memorable moments with my grandmother and great-grandmother are around the smokehouse, and splitting fish.  Those traditions cannot simply be replaced or compensated for.  They are priceless, and once lost, will be lost forever.

As trustees of this land for future generations, the people of the region have overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine.  The Pebble Partnership’s own website has indicated that the mine would only provide some 153 local jobs.  Many of these would not be the high-paying jobs that are so highly touted by the State of Alaska and the mining executives.  The proposed Pebble Mine would not enhance the quality of life for people of the region.  The mining executives have indicated that it would be “camp style” living – 2 weeks on and two weeks off.  As somebody who has had to travel for work, I can tell you that it does not result in a harmonious family life or routine to have one parent absent half of the time.  The social implications of this type of system would be detrimental to the already struggling families in the region, and would result in higher rates of domestic violence, and likely, drug and alcohol abuse.  Several of my close friends are single parents and I see how they struggle to keep their families intact.  I would not want to see this type of social system being imposed on local mine workers in the region. 

Finally, the 6th consideration of NEPA would not be met with this project.  Rather than “enhancing the renewable resources,” it would put them at great risk.  Until our landfills become mines and we have harvested all of the usable metals out of existing cells, perhaps then we should consider opening up new lands to mining.  Over 80% of gold goes directly into jewelry.  Jewelry for self-adornment seems like a very frivolous way to put our precious salmon resources at risk.

For the sake of my family, for the people of the Bristol Bay region, and for future generations of Bristol Bay fishing families, I implore the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise their 404(c) permitting authority and permanently protect the Bristol Bay headwaters and watershed area.

Thank you for your consideration.


Izetta Chambers
Founder, Naknek Family Fisheries
4th generation commercial fishing family member
Mother of a 5th generation commercial fisherman
Wife of a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman
Tribally enrolled member, Naknek Native Village

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bristol Bay Fishermen Raise the Bar on Salmon Quality

Bristol Bay fishermen rapidly raising the bar on salmon quality
published in SEAFOOD.COM NEWS, Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman
Opinion by Izetta Chambers  March 5, 2013

Izetta Chambers, is the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent in Dillingham, Alaska, where she lives.  The huge increases in frozen sockeye salmon have only come about as harvesters in the Bay have steadily increased quality through better care and handling of the catch. In 2012 for the first time, a majority of the catch was chilled or iced before reaching the plants.

Having grown up in a fishing family in Bristol Bay, I have watched and taken part in the slow and sometimes painful journey to improve salmon quality.
When I was little, I remember how fishermen used pews—essentially pointed stakes—to stab the fish in the head or belly and fling them into a delivery truck. It was an irreverent way to treat food. Fortunately, the practice stopped in the late 70s or early 80s.
In those days, nobody used ice or refrigerated seawater. Bleeding the freshly caught salmon was unheard of. But I remember people on the Naknek beach being proud to deliver their fish in a timely manner. My family never let their fish sit long in the boats. It was a matter of pride to deliver the catch quickly.
As they say, change happens slowly. One small change was the switch by processors away from the knotted-rope brailer bags that inflicted body-bruising damage to salmon pressed against the bottom and sides of the bag. The new bags used a flat mesh design that did far less damage. And when mesh bags got smaller—another small but important step—quality improved again.
The really big changes began in the 90s, when fresh, high-quality, farmed salmon began showing up in markets around the world. While farmed salmon producers were going after the younger generation's growing demand for fresh and frozen salmon, we here in Bristol Bay were still chasing the World War II generation's desire for salmon—together with bones and skin—in cans.
The appearance of farmed salmon did get fishermen to pay more attention to the quality of their product. But the road to higher quality had its potholes. In Naknek, I saw many different operations come and go, each with the notion that they were going to do things differently, with the focus on quality. Most of these early endeavors didn't pan out, but they did get all of us talking about how to improve the quality of our salmon.
The 90s also were marked by falling salmon prices, which led to seafood processing plant closures and consolidation of the industry. Fishermen were hit hard, too. It wasn't easy to make a living as a fisherman when the price was only 40 cents a pound. A lot of fishermen packed up and left during this time. There didn't seem to be any easy solution for how our fishery was going to survive, much less improve.
Looking back, these painful changes were needed. I'm still too proud to outright thank farmed salmon, but I have to admit that farmed salmon was the kick in the pants we all needed to adapt to new realities in the marketplace.
Of course, it took time, and we still have a ways to go. But good ideas like careful handling of each fish and icing or refrigerating the salmon at sea have taken hold. More change came when the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation started making investments in such things as village ice machines, slush bags, and insulated totes. It has helped a lot that such ideas were promoted with education and training by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, and, more recently, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Some people didn't believe that we could make real gains in salmon quality. When I tried to convince my mom in the early 2000s to use her slush bags and to ice her fish, she said, "Why? We deliver our fish within 30 or 40 minutes to the beach, and they get iced there. Why should we ice them onboard when we don't get paid extra for it?" It was a good question. The answer would come as the surviving seafood processors began to pay higher prices for higher quality salmon—not to pack into cans, but to turn into beautiful frozen and fresh fillets and whole salmon to claim markets dominated by farmed salmon. These days, only about one-third of the sockeye harvest ends up in cans, a percentage that has fallen each year since 2008. The rest is sold as fresh and frozen whole or as fillets.
Thanks largely to the efforts of fishermen and processors, as well as both public and private groups, the volume of Bristol Bay salmon delivered in ice and refrigerated seawater has gone up each year. In 2012, for the first time, the majority of the 131-million-pound harvest was either iced or put into refrigerated seawater at the time of harvest.
This focus on quality has had tangible benefits. The higher prices paid for salmon have generated bigger paychecks for the region's fishermen. The ready availability of high-quality salmon also has spawned new businesses that specialize in value-added seafood products, and has spurred more than a few fishermen to process their own catch and sell directly to restaurants and seafood shops.
The sea change that is happening in Bristol Bay is a testament to multiple groups working to spread the gospel of higher-quality seafood. It also is a story of survival through adaptation. Preserving our fishing identity and way of life for our children required us to change, and will require continued change. Can we stop here? Of course not! We have to continue to adapt and respond to global market forces. But as fishermen and caretakers of the salmon resource, we now better understand that wild salmon is not the only—or even best—selling point. Wild salmon of exceptional quality must be our selling point.
Izetta Chambers is the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program Agent for Bristol Bay. She lives in Dillingham and participates in the Bristol Bay salmon fishery with her family.

Friday, January 11, 2013

FDA accepting comments on genetically modified salmon

FDA accepting comments on AquaBounty "Frankenfish" genetically-modified salmon application.

Here is the link to the notice in the Federal Register:

Here is one article from a scientific journal discussing some of the potential impacts on the wild salmon populations: 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Salmon Ikura Recipe

Here is an incredibly simple recipe for salmon ikura.  I think once you start playing around with
the eggs, you will enjoy the process and it does get a little easier.  The
main "trick" is keeping fresh water away from the eggs, and keeping them
cool during all stages of the process.

1. harvest the eggs from the fresh fish - sockeye, Chinook (king) chum and
pink are all fine.  I haven't used Coho, but I'm sure they would be fine
too.  You just have to be careful about worms.  If any parasites have made
their way into the skein, don't use those.

2. put the skeins into an egg basket or colander so that they can drain.
Make sure to keep them in a cool place until they are ready for
processing.  Also, remember to keep them out of the entrails and blood of
the salmon processing.

3. Make a 100% salt brine.  You can test it with a salometer or with an
egg (once the egg floats, that it 100% saline).  Make sure to use COLD

4.Separate the brine into two containers.  Use half of the brine to rinse
the eggs lightly, just long enough to wash off any bits of blood and other
entrails that will give the eggs an "off" flavor.  Dispose of the rinse

5.  The tricky part of making ikura is separating the eggs from the skein.
You can do this by pushing the eggs through a colander or something else
with similar sized holes.  Some have used tennis rackets or other devices
that have holes that will allow for manual separation of the eggs from the
skein.  When you are separating the eggs from the skein, make sure to
catch the eggs in the remaining brine.

6.  Dispose of the damaged eggs and the skein.  Don't worry about getting
all of the eggs.

7.  Give the eggs in the brine a good stir, and keep in the brine for 7 to
10 minutes.  Once they look right, take one out and try it.  Once they are
salty enough, drain the eggs to remove the brine.

8. Drain overnight, or at least 8 hours to separate the moisture from the

9.  Once the eggs are drained, carefully package into small jars and put
lids on.  I recommend freezing the eggs at this point, as they keep the
best and won't get too "fishy" in the freezer.  If you are using them
right away, that it best.  You can season them at this point, if you wish.
Some people have used pepper, soy sauce, wasabi, and other such seasoning.
I'm a purist and just like the eggs and the salt.  They are really good on
crackers with a little bit of cream cheese.  They are also really good
with sushi.

Some people use sake for marinating the salmon roe.  Here are a few more

One thing to remember is that you are going to have the best chance of
success if you use fresh roes, not frozen and not ones that have been
hanging around in your fridge or walk-in cooler for a few days.  The
timing of the final salt brine is probably the most important part of the
process - not too long, but long enough.

Good luck!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I apologize for the camera moving around.  My four-year old was helping me take the video, as I needed both hands to remove the pin bones.