Lacey Berns is holding her canopy steady in the wind with one hand and selling wild salmon with the other hand at the first big Arcata Farmers’ Market of the season. She’s a woman who isn’t daunted by a little wind and rain because she’s lived through 40 summers of fishing in Alaska. It’s hard work and some adventure and sometimes, lots of fun.
She described her first set net setup in Alaska as a spot where several unsolved murders had occurred and where she had to climb out on big rocks to set her nets.
Now she’s got a beauty of a spot and her husband has rigged up a crane-like device to unload the fish, making their lives easier. The kids, Hunter, Ria, Leslie, Edin, and Galen, are all fishermen. It’s a way of life, harvesting five species of wild salmon in the waters of the Kodiak Island Archipelago.
That salmon is flash-frozen or smoked and has made its way to the market on the Plaza. It’s quite a journey.
Berns and her family carry on the tradition of set seiners, those folks who stake out their spot on the shoreline and harvest fish. There are some legendary spots because of biology and topography and there are some not so great spots. Algae can be an issue as can those pirates of the industry, the purse seiners. Those are the small boats that run their nets out in a huge circle and then draw up the strings tightly, not unlike a woman drawing up the strings of a purse. Hence the name.
Set seiners, my friend the purse seiner informs me, are the mom-and-pop workers in the trade and account for about 70 percent of the catch in the season. They live off the land.
The salmon fishery takes all kinds; folks come from around the world to work it.
Alaska’s wild salmon roam freely in the icy waters of the North Pacific: chinook, sockeye, coho, chum, and pink, according to the Kodiak Catch label.
Berns has been selling at the market since 2003. She and the Oyster Lady add to the variety of foods that can be purchased directly from farmers or fishermen. Add meat and eggs to the mix and the markets expand the footprint of beautiful lettuce and succulent tomatoes exponentially. In Humboldt we are so blessed to be able to shop the farmers’ markets five days a week and blessed by the ocean’s harvest.
“Chilling our catch immediately in 33 degree water, our salmon is guaranteed fresh, flavorful, and nutritious,” the label continues. “We are proud of our naturally healthy product – 100 percent wild Alaskan salmon.”