From Kenai to Chico
The amazing journey of Alldrin & Sons Alaska Salmon
At 7:30 on the morning of Sept. 7, as the Saturday-morning downtown farmers’ market was opening for business, customers were already beginning to line up at the Alldrin & Sons Alaska Salmon booth. It was the first Saturday since the end of April that local salmon fisherman Lance Alldrin had been back at the market, after spending a good part of the summer fishing with his 15-year-old son, Luke, in Cook Inlet, off Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, and market-goers were eager to purchase some of the delicious, wild-caught sockeye bounty they had brought back.
At $10.99 per pound for flash-frozen and $20 a pound for smoked, Alldrin’s sockeye—or red—salmon is a deal. Especially when one considers the care (and adventure!) that went into procuring and processing it.
“Our fish is caught with the intent of being processed within 24 hours of being caught,” the 50-year-old Alldrin said in a recent interview. “That includes butchering, vacuum-bagging and flash-freezing.” As soon as the fish come out of the net, he said, they are placed into hanging “brailer bags,” into which alternating layers of fish and ice are placed to keep the fish fresh. The fish are then processed at a plant in the borough of Kenai, where Alldrin keeps a couple of travel trailers in which to stay when he is not on his boat.
This past summer marked the ninth year that Alldrin has headed north to Alaska to fish from mid-June to mid-August. In previous years, he (and his sons: all three have accompanied him in the past) worked the inlet’s shoreline. But 2013 marks the first time that Alldrin ventured out into the vast inlet to fish—in his new 40-foot boat, Night Hawk.
This year’s fishing adventure on the inlet was possible only after purchasing a fairly pricey “limited-entry permit” (which can range from $15,000 to $200,000, depending on the recent value of fish taken from the area), a feature of Alaska’s restrictive, sustainability-conscious system of salmon management. Such permits require the bearer to check in with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game before heading out to fish, as “Fish and Game counts the fish every day with a sonar [device],” Alldrin said. If numbers are too low on any given day, no fishing is allowed.
This was also the year that the fishing adventures of Alldrin; his two deckhands, Luke and Luke’s buddy Andrew Puser; and a longtime Alaska fisherman named Capt. Dino Sutherland were filmed for the upcoming second season of Alaska Fish Wars, which will appear on the cable/satellite TV channel Nat Geo Wild in February. Alldrin had hooked up with Capt. Sutherland—who, as it turned out, is a friend of the executive producer of Alaska Fish Wars—in an effort “to hire someone to show me the ropes” out in Cook Inlet.
“He had 35 years [experience fishing in the open water of the inlet] to my nothing,” offered Alldrin. “We were out there in the middle of Cook Inlet, with 8- to 10-foot seas, and 900 feet of [20-foot-long gill] net trailing behind the boat. It was the first time I had been out in that water and fishing with that type of gear.”
He pointed out that despite the word “wars” in the title of the show, there was no ramming of boats or any other such aggression. “The ‘war’ part of it was simply the competition between which of the four show boats caught the most fish that day,” said Alldrin, who clearly loves the job of catching fish.
“What I love about it is it’s maybe one of the last professions that’s truly man against nature, you against the ocean,” said Alldrin, who works during the school year as a counselor at Centennial High School in Corning.
“The other thing is it’s addictive—probably the only other thing that was this addictive was gold mining [which he did in his college days]. … You know, ‘If I just lay my net out one more time, I’m gonna get that huge haul!’”