Wild about quality
If Alaska markets better salmon, ex-fisherman Mark Buckley says, the world will beat a path to its door
By Charlie Ess
The philosophical hard wiring of Alaska salmon advocate Mark Buckley commits him, as it does some scholars, on a path toward the ultimate goal of making contributions to the human race. Some say that trait plus his commitment to preserve the commercial fishing lifestyle and his unbridled enthusiasm for wild salmon as a superior food source makes him Alaska's strongest salmon ambassador.
"He provides a really unique, passionate view," says Bill Webber Sr., of Cordova, who will be gillnetting the Copper River Delta for his 39th year this summer. "I mean, it just radiates when he takes over the microphone."
For 22 summers, Buckley, 56, fished for Bristol Bay salmon. The Kodiak resident has also been an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, worked in fisheries management, seafood processing, fisheries reporting (for National Fisherman, among others), and grant-funded, fisheries-related research. To Buckley, wild-caught salmon is more than a nice piece of fish on someone's dinner plate. He believes salmon can command the same kind of reputation — and high price — that the world's finest luxury cars enjoy.
An ardent believer in the power of offering the highest quality product possible, Buckley offers up an analogy between shiny bright sockeyes and Mercedes-Benz automobiles. In theory, the salmon coming out of pristine waters and the car rolling off the factory assembly line should be synonymous in terms of quality, hence the justification of premium prices within their respective markets.
However, in offering an equitable comparison between the transit of the Mercedes from assembly line to automobile showroom and wild salmon from seine to the supermarket, Buckley says to imagine that the Mercedes passes through a gauntlet of folks who take turns smashing it with sledgehammers.
"It's still a Mercedes," he says. "But how much are customers going to pay for it? It's what we do to the fish after they're caught that degrades quality."
Buckley's passion for delivering a high-quality and highly desired product may go a long ways towards making wild-caught Alaska salmon the Mercedes of the sea.