Curious about Starbird Fish?
Starbird Fish is a sustainable wild fishing operation based in Bristol Bay Alaska and Burlington, Vermont. Tony Naples, captain and owner/founder of Starbird, fishes during the summer months and brings his catch back to Burlington, where he spends the off-season. In addition to salmon, Tony and his team also fish for cod, halibut, pollock, rockfish, and other species
In the springtime, Tony is preparing for the summer season by building his crew. They’ll fly to Alaska in June and fish until August. A five-person team, including Tony, sets out in Bristol Bay in search of sockeye salmon. This summer’s salmon return is predicted to be the largest in written history, thanks to sustainable fishing practices. There’s no quota for salmon; rather, there are a set number of fishing permits, and periods when the government opens and closes fishing, based off ‘escapement goals’. Escapement is calculated by counting the number of fish who return to their natal rivers and streams. (What’s a return? Each year, salmon return to the streams where they were born. They swim upstream and lay eggs, then promptly die. The eggs mature in fresh water until large enough to travel downstream to the ocean. The cycle continues.) Management is important to ensuring the species' success, so much so that it's written in Alaskan law. Under-fishing leads to high kill-offs, where there are so many dead salmon in a river way that bacterial counts are so high that fry are also killed off. Proper management keeps return numbers balanced to sustain salmon.
Starbird uses different fishing methods for each species. Salmon is either caught with a seine net, which encircles salmon in deeper ocean waters, or gill nets, which intercept salmon in shallow bays on their way to fresh water. The sockeye in Bristol Bay are caught with gill nets, which allow smaller fish to slip through. This results in very low by-catch. Each fish is pulled onto the boat, individually handled, and immediately placed in a refrigerated seawater hold where they’re kept between 32-34F. That same day, the crew will bring the catch to a “tender,” a boat that will then promptly bring the catch to a processor. Each fish is then hand-fillet, packaged, and frozen.
Tony’s crew catch cod in the Bering Sea, just off Dutch Harbor. Cod are line caught with baited lines (often squid). Each is pulled into the boat, taken off the hook, and put in a refrigerated hold before undergoing the same processing as salmon. Cod is managed with a strict quota, as warming waters have killed off large numbers of stock. (Cod eggs only survive in waters between 34 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit.) A boat isn’t paid for anything it catches above quota, which is reason enough to stay well under the threshold, as the work is hard enough when paid, let alone when done for free.
Once the season is done, the crew head home and Tony brings the boats to Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle to conduct repairs and updates. The navigation system, engine, refrigeration system, and all the odds and ends are carefully examined and repaired. Tony is also monitoring the shipment of his catch to Vermont, by way of a refrigerated truck crossing the country. (He’s just as invested in logistics as the Food Hub! It takes a lot of work and care to move food!)