Sopow presents a seagull egg she gathered. Photo: K. Sopow
June 30, 2017 During our first week and half in the field,
we had some incredible experiences. We conducted our first interviews;
tried subsistence-harvested foods, including berries and sockeye
salmon; and watched fishermen set their lines in anticipation of
the king salmon arriving. We also had a fourth member join our team.
Kitty Sopow hails from Sitka, Alaska, and is interning with the
Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA) for the summer. She has a
dog named Fawn and shared some of her own subsistence practices
with us. She fishes for salmon, hunts deer, and harvests mushrooms,
berries, and medicinal herbs like Devils Club. Kitty assisted
us with interviews and served as our community liaison.
Conducting the interviews
We started in Dillingham, Bristol Bays central hub, where
we had the privilege of working with the staff of the BBNA, who
all were incredibly helpful and welcoming. We attended BBNAs
annual picnic, and their staff put us in touch with key individuals
We were fortunate to observe and document subsistence set net
fishing around town along the Nushagak as king salmon started coming
in. Set net fishing is typically done from land with one end of
the line anchored on shore and the other end in water. Subsistence
set netters in this area typically use 10-fathom gillnets. The net
is attached to a lead line and a cork line and is set at low tide.
As the tide comes in the cork line lifts the net in the water. Passing
salmon are caught in the net and are revealed again when the tide
goes out. Set netters diligently watch the tides to determine when
they need to check their nets; sometimes this means going out at
3:00 am in the morning! Arriving too late exposes the salmon to
seagulls, which will eat the eyes and egg sacs of the salmon.
Nielsen catches a king salmon in a subsistence set net. Photo:
A. Santos, NOAA Fisheries
We conducted five oral histories during our first week in Dillingham,
focusing on Alaska Native women who fish in Bristol Bay. Oral histories
are in-depth interviews that document personal narrative and life
experience. We heard some incredible stories from women who have
been fishing for 20+ years in commercial and/or subsistence fisheries
in Bristol Bay. Fishing is an integral part of their way of life.
Recurring themes in our interviews include the connection that fishing
provides to the land and water and the way that fishing cements
family and community bonds.
Were also learning that these are extremely tough women!
Set net fishing is very physically demanding imagine catching
around 200 fish at once and having to haul them in all by hand.
In addition, there is typically 3-4 hours of processing to be done
immediately after catching fish, including filleting, stripping,
and vacuum packing or smoking the fish. Some residents have their
own smokehouses small, enclosed buildings that are designed
to dry and smoke salmon. Smoking takes about 2 weeks to complete.
fish hang in a smokehouse. Salmon is cut into strips (left)
or is hung as split fillets (right). Slices are made in the
fillets to allow for increased air circulation. Photo: K.
Sparks, NOAA Fisheries
In our next installment we will share a bit more about the second
half of our trip, what were learning through these oral histories
and what were planning to do with this research. Special thanks
to NOAA Preserve America and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries
Commission for providing funds and support for this study, and to
the Bristol Bay Native Association for partnering with us on this
Lee sets up for an oral history interview. Photo: K. Sparks,