"As a deckhand, all I had to worry about is wake up, work hard, pick fish. That’s about it.”

So says Kyle Lee, who gillnetted one season with a college buddy on Alaska’s Copper River Flats because it sounded like so much fun. He fished a few 24-hour openers and thought, “This is amazing! You get to do this for a living? It was such a gorgeous day. I had so much fun catching fish.”

After he graduated college, he weighed his options for returning the next season.

“I can either accept this job, or I can fish in one of the most beautiful places on this planet,” said Lee. “I decided to lean into it and bought into commercial fishing. I figured I could always find a corporate job somewhere, but commercial fishing was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

He found a gillnet package, got an Alaskan state loan, and bought in. Looking back, he admittedly probably should have crewed a little bit longer, but he knew what he wanted — to be a commercial fisherman. “The perspective of a deckhand is completely different than from a captain.”

He started direct-marketing his first season. These days, Lee is focused on his direct-to-consumer business, Alaskan Salmon (aksalmonco.com). When visiting the Lower 48, Lee says, “I’d run out to buy salmon and think, ‘What the heck? This is nothing like the Alaska salmon we’re catching.’ Yet, it was labeled Alaska Salmon.”

Lee’s parents own two restaurants in Anchorage, Chop Sticks and Thai Garden. So he grew up in the food industry, knowing the importance of good quality ingredients while learning the ins and outs of being a small business owner from his parents, who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan. From the moment he bought in, Lee started reaching out to restaurants to offer direct marketing and has been doing it ever since.

Though the last few seasons on the Copper River Flats have been on the skinny side, Lee is optimistic about the fishery, noting that the 2021 season is going better than last year.

“If I wasn’t optimistic, I don’t think I’d be a fisherman.” Lee is also finding that since covid, more people are trying seafood at home after so many restaurants being closed. “If you had the same company before covid started,” he adds, “you’re not doing it right.”

Jen Pickett, PhD, is a fisherpoet, recovering Alaskan commercial fisherman, and a behavioral scientist.

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