Selling Sockeye

On the first opening, I just felt lucky to have been out there fishing. I didn’t have a list of people ready to buy my fish because I didn’t have time to advertise that they were for sale. When I fall into fish mode, I get so focused on making the opener that I give most of my attention to my boat instead of my wife. When this happens, I lose Maureen’s enthusiasm in the fish-selling department. Since I was way too focused on getting my boat ready, I was on my own for fish sales.

I brought along my fish list, which consisted of several file folders, heavily scratched with names and phone numbers sporadically written on the front and the back, plus an assortment of business cards and scraps of paper. The plan was to call the people on the fish list while I was drifting on my net, or running to the next set. The problem was that cell coverage is so sketchy on the south and west side of San Juan Island — and anywhere on the islands for that matter — that I could only contact a few of my customers via cell phone during the day.

I wound up with around 130 fish to sell. I finally had decent cell coverage when I steamed around the corner of Cattle Point. The fishing period ended at 6 p.m. so I had the chance to call a few more customers. By the time I made these calls, some of the people had already heard from their friends that Matt Marinkovich had fish for sale off the boat tomorrow morning at the Port of Friday Harbor.

When I arrived at my boat the next morning, late as usual, I had a few people patiently waiting to buy fish. I thought I had too many fish to sell, but it turns out that people started calling our home number looking for fish to buy, and Maureen is such a good fish seller that she couldn’t help but sell quite a few fish without even trying. Because of Maureen’s help, I was sold out by noon.

One thing I don’t like about selling fish is the fact I have to be down on the boat all day, or at least until the fish are sold out. This would be fine, but since I have been gone all summer I would really like to spend some time with my family instead of with my boat and fish customers.

After the second opening I came up with a way that I could sell fish and be at home with my family at the same time: Self-Service Salmon Sales. I bagged up a bunch of individual fish, and laid them in a nice, clean tote with ice sprinkled around. Then I made a big sign that read “SELF-SERVICE SALMON,” with instructions to slide the money through the slot in the window.

People couldn’t believe I would just leave my fish down there so anybody could just walk up and take one without paying. But I figured if anybody needed a fish that badly, they could have it. It turned out that not a single fish was swiped, and I sold all 20 fish I had bagged up in the ice chest.

I heard feedback that people loved the novelty of Self-Service Salmon so much they were taking pictures of my selling setup, and calling their friends up on the cell phone to tell them about it. I was just happy it worked so I didn’t have to be hanging around the boat all day long.

By the third opening, I had gained favor from my wife, Maureen, so she helped me sell fish, which made a big difference. The really cool thing about it was that she didn’t make a single phone call. Instead she sent out a group e-mail to the people on the fish list who had left their e-mail address. There were only a handful of names, but it had great results.

This set me to thinking about how time-consuming it is calling everybody up on the phone. I have always been limited in how many fish I could sell because I never have time to make the phone calls. Well, the e-mail trick solved that problem, and over the course of the next 10 days (Washington Department of Fisheries likes to shut us down when there are fish to catch) I made a point of collecting e-mails from people on my fish list.

The next opening turned out to be the final opening, and I sent out another group e-mail announcing “The last sockeye opening and the LAST CHANCE to get sockeye this year.” This brought a tremendous response. Within a few hours Maureen announced we had more than 60 fish sold, and there were more orders still coming in — pretty good for not making a single phone call!

The pressure was on to catch fish on this final opening. A hundred fish would be perfect, but I would be happy to catch even more! What I didn’t figure was that would be no fish, which turned out to be the case. For all my efforts, I wound up with just 10 fish, and since I had myself and three guests aboard, I split the catch with my crew for the day, and called it a season.

I had never been so bummed out than when I had to be down on my boat the day after the opening to tell all the people showing up with their ice chests that I didn’t have any fish for sale. They were very understanding, and said they would be looking for more fish buying opportunities in their inbox next year.


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