How We Fish
Kwee-Jack Fish Co. is based in Billings, Montana during the off-season, but in June and July each year, we harvest wild sockeye salmon from the frigid waters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The remote location where our fishermen live each season has very little in the way of modern amenities. Our fishing grounds are located at the mouth of the Kvichak River (pronounced Kwee-Jack). Since our boats are not setup to live-aboard, we stay in cabins at a place called Graveyard Point, which is a 45 minute boat ride from the closest small town of Naknek. Graveyard Point is the site of Libby’s Koggiung cannery that burned down long ago, and now fishermen like us use this place as home base during the summer fishing season. Just over 100 fishermen make their way to Graveyard Point every year from other regions of Alaska and the Lower 48.
To allow us to maneuver shallow waters where we harvest sockeye salmon, our boats are small skiffs, and we come on-shore to cabins to rest and eat when we are not fishing. These cabins have generators for limited electricity supply, and rain barrels for limited water supply. Many things we take for granted in other parts of the U.S. are non-existent or difficult to come by in this region of Alaska, like hot showers, flushing toilets, electricity, and access to communications and medical facilities.
We harvest our wild sockeye salmon from fishing sites located near the mouth of the Kvichak River in the waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Our boats are small to facilitate navigating waters that are often shallow. Tides can quickly bring 20 to 25 feet of water level change in a matter of hours, reducing a vast body of water to mud flats lined with narrow channels and trickles of water.
Our boats are simply large skiffs set-up with efficient outboard motors and hydraulic rollers for our set-net method of fishing. For meals and rest, we stay in cabins on the shore, without electricity or running water and with Grizzly bears for neighbors.
Our lives revolve around the tide schedule with our fishing process beginning as the water rises. Given our remote location, the small size of our fishing boats and the constraints of time, we enlist large tender vessels with refrigerated fish-holds to transport our catch to the professional processor nearby. As the water retreats for low-tide, we head to shore to eat and get a few hours of rest before meeting the rising tide to start the process all over again.
Bristol Bay boasts the largest Sockeye (Red) salmon run in the world, averaging over 50 million salmon each year for the majority of the last decade. The fishery is vigilantly managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who oversee strict regulations for the commercial harvest of salmon resources. Marine biologists conduct studies each year to predict the return of salmon in subsequent years. Data is gathered on the number of sockeye that escape up-stream to their spawning grounds, or are harvested.
The commercial fishing fleet is granted fishing time based upon what is being observed as the season progresses; if salmon returns appear lower than desired or expected, fishing time is not granted until the salmon run has produced the results deemed necessary by fishery management.
Bristol Bay is currently free of dams, with very low populations living in the surrounding towns and villages. Sound, scientific management combined with these features of the pristine environment all contribute to making wild Alaskan salmon not only one of the healthiest sources of protein on the planet, but also a truly well-managed resource sustainable for generations to come.