In the spirit of salmon season, Chefs Collaborative got the inside scoop on Bristol Bay, Alaska from two of Bristol Bay’s fishermen: meet Mary Beth and Jason McKinley.
Mary Beth and her husband are sockeye fish distributors based out of Kentucky who also set out to Alaska to fish during salmon season. Mary Beth is teaming up with us as a part of the 2013 Bristol Bay salmon dinner series – working with places like Marksbury Farm, Bluebird, and Home Cafe & Marketplace to distribute wild Bristol Bay sockeye and bring other restaurants on board.
We sat down with Mary Beth to talk Bristol Bay, sockeye, and more – as the salmon season kicks off:
Chefs Collab: Can you introduce us to your fishing business, history?
Absolutely! My husband Jason visited Alaska while he was in college and fell in love with the wild beauty and culture. Returning the next summer, he found himself employed as a salmon fisherman through a crazy set of circumstances! Needless to say, life would never be the same. He just left Kentucky for his fourteenth season on Bristol Bay. The last few years, I have been lucky enough to join him on the boat as well.
It has always been our dream to be able to bring delicious wild caught Alaskan sockeye salmon back to Kentucky to share with our friends and family, as well as businesses and consumers who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it affects the environment. In January 2012, we launched our company here in Kentucky, Caught Wild, where we distribute our sockeye salmon to fine retail shops and grocery stores, CSA’s, and restaurants. We are getting ready to add smoked salmon to our product offering which is really exciting because wild caught Alaskan smoked salmon is rarely seen here in Kentucky! We love our work and the opportunity it gives us to experience the world and share something pure and natural with those we love.
Why does sustainability matter to you – as a business owner and an individual?
If you think about it, there’s really a time stamp on our natural resources. It is our duty as individuals to educate ourselves and take action in our daily lives to preserve Mother Earth. Future generations depend on our choices now.
The state of Alaska is a model for sustainable practices and has been long before the rest of the world started coming around to the idea. We have a deep respect for Alaska and the majestic beauty and history it encompasses. We also take great pride in participating in a time-honored ritual of salmon fishing in Bristol Bay and in a fishery that is deeply committed to protecting and preserving its fishery and supporting the local ecosystem. To us and the generations of Bristol Bay fishermen who have come before us, fishing responsibly and sustainably is sacred work. Knowing Bristol Bay’s standards and commitment to sustainability means everything to us as it illustrates the respect for the salmon, fisherman, animals, and communities whose livelihood (like ours) depends on the Bay.
Bristol Bay: it’s so far away – tell us why you care about this place, this issue?
I get emotional thinking about Bristol Bay’s impact on our lives. To us, the Bay holds so many memories—it’s about livelihood, community, relationships, family bonds, nature, the circle of life… at its most pure and pristine state. She has directly contributed to our family’s livelihood and we are grateful for her provisions.
Not many of our customers will get to directly experience the Bay, but as they build relationships with us and Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon, they begin to learn and appreciate the importance of this beautiful area and take great pride in knowing that their salmon comes from a sustainable fishery. And for that reason, they begin to fall in love with Bristol Bay and its importance to our collective well-being.
We enjoy the education process and feel that it’s our way to pay forward what Bristol Bay has done for our family. We enjoy telling people about Bristol Bay and certainly educating others about wild-caught versus farm and GM salmon.
What do you hope your customers will learn through consuming wild Bristol Bay sockeye?
We say all the time, ‘Bristol Bay sockeye salmon is the way.’ And we are serious. We are passionate about communicating to our customers that Bristol Bay sockeye is of the highest quality with abundant nutrition. It’s about pure goodness—growing naturally in pristine waters—free of additives, antibiotics, pesticides, growth hormones, and chemicals. We love showcasing the sockeye’s true deep red hue. And we are proud to share about Bristol Bay Alaska’s commitment to sustainability—the size and longevity of the world’s largest salmon run proves the success of Bristol Bay’s world-renowned fishery management systems.
Anything else you want us to know about your stance on Bristol Bay, and the role of chefs in protecting this resource?
It is beyond our comprehension why anyone would want to destroy a sustainable food source and viable waterways, plus threaten jobs and generations of families by entertaining the proposal for the Pebble Mine. Unfortunately, this is the fight that we are in and we are thankful for all of the organizations like Chef’s Collaborative and individuals that have joined forces to raise awareness for protecting Bristol Bay. We are proud to stand alongside everyone in opposition and doing what we can to ensure our voices are heard and that this sacred area is not harmed.
The role of chefs is invaluable in elevating this cause and communicating why Bristol Bay is so important to our world’s economy today and for the future.
More than ever, people want to make smart choices for their families and the environment and with the help from chefs across the nation, we are able to partner and create an unstoppable force to protect the great gift of Bristol Bay, Alaska.
We were so happy to get the chance to talk with Mary Beth. If you want to get more involved with the 2013 Bristol Bay salmon dinner series, please let us know as soon as possible! Contact Julia Bateman at firstname.lastname@example.org.