Salmon from the other side of the globe

Facts & figures

Sockeye salmon
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Ekuk, Alaska (USA)


Life for the people at Bristol Bay has been all about sockeye salmon for thousands of years. In summer the small town of Ekuk comes to life: in July and August the fishermen are up and running and there’s enough work to do. In wintertime there’s no-(salm)one to be seen.

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The local Alaskan government invests a lot in sustainable fisheries. In Bristol Bay this is very apparent: the arrival of the salmon is closely monitored by biologists every year to prevent fishermen over-catching. This method works really well, because large amounts of salmon return to their place of birth each year to lay eggs: on average about 38 million fish. That’s twice as many salmon as Dutch people!

Fishing method

The Ekuk fishery is the only fishery in Bristol Bay fishing with small gillnets. That’s what makes the quality so outstanding. During low tide the fishermen in Ekuk throw out their gillnets horizontally in the sea and anchor them on the beach. The fishermen swim upstream during low tide and afterwards pull the nets with their trucks on the mainland. They manually take the fish out of the nets; within one hour the fish are iced.

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Between mid-June and the beginning of August the salmon swim by the coast of Ekuk towards the rivers. The state of Alaska meticulously notes how many fish swim up the river to lay their eggs, and only if enough fish have passed, fishing is allowed. This way the catch remains in healthy balance with the fish data.

The end of the world

Ekuk means ‘the last village below’. This can be taken quite literally: it’s the most southern village of the Nushagak Bay, a branch of the Bristol Bay. You can only reach it by boat or plane, making it feel a bit like it’s at the end of the world. In summertime about 400 people live here, but during winter the place is abandoned.

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Wild sockeye salmon

The Bristol Bay is home to the largest population of sockeye salmon in the world - and also the tastiest. The Ekuk fishery is the only fishery in Bristol Bay fishing with small gillnets. That makes the quality so outstanding. The salmon is an anadromous fish, which means that it swims from the sea up the stream in the river to lay eggs. That’s hard work, so before they start their journey, the fish fills its belly with plankton and small crustaceans. You guessed it; that’s where it gets its gorgeous deep red color from.

"I enjoy doing this with my family"

Every summer Johnna travels with her family to Ekuk to fish for sockeye salmon. On the coastal stretch of more than 16 miles they lay out their nets - and together pull them back. What’s on their plate for dinner? “Pickled salmon is my favorite,” says Johnna. “Once you’ve had that, you never want something else.”

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