Bristol Bay businesses, fishermen and advocacy shine at 2018 Pacific Marine Expo

Nov 27, 2018

The Pacific Marine Expo brought Bristol Bay fishermen down to Seattle to peruse gear and discuss economics and the environment. 

Megan Gervais' daughters, Ruby and Margaret, cheered her on as she spliced rope in the "Fisherman of the Year" competition.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG

Over the next couple weeks we'll be airing conversations with industry experts who were at the expo. We'll post those interviews here. Check back for updates.

Bristol Bay made a strong showing at the 2018 Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. Among more than 450 exhibitors, Bristol Bay Brailer’s booth sat in a premiere spot near the front doors. Business is booming for the Naknek-based company.

“Our first year, we did a couple hundred items,” explained co-owner Bill Hill. “We do a number of things from slush bags, brailers, little hand bags, specialty projects. We did a couple hundred the first year. I think the second year we did over 500, and then last year we did 1400. So it’s been growing pretty quickly…Our limiting factor is really some equipment needs and staffing is a big one…That’s kind of our current choke point.”

Karl Hill, Diane Hill and Bill Hill of Bristol Bay Brailer sold their wares at the Pacific Marine Expo. The Naknek-based business started in 2016.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG

A young Dillingham set netter traveled to the expo for the first time this year. Jayden Mayer, 17, had his eye on new rain gear, life rafts and personal floatation devices.

“I think I learned a lot from these people…It’s really great for Bristol Bay to come in, know what’s happening, what’s new and what they should get for their RSW system for their bigger boats and what new gear they should get for their crew members,” said Mayer.

At the National Fisherman’s ever-popular “Fisherman of the Year” competition, Bristol Bay fishermen took top honors. Competitors show their speed in three heats: net mending, knot tying and rope splicing. The winners of the heats compete for the title in a final round, donning a survival suit at high speed. Defending champion, Malcolm Vance of the F/V Bristol Nymph who fishes in Egegik, won the net mending and knot tying competitions. Nushagak set netter, Lindsay Layland, won the rope splicing competition, but she ceded her spot in the finals to Meghan Gervais, who also fishes in the Nushagak District. Gervais won handily. She pulled on her immersion suit in a mere 29.6 seconds.

Dillingham's Lindsay Layland (right) won the rope splicing contest.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG

“It’s good to practice getting your survival suit on in under a minute because when boats go down, they go down fast, so you want to be quick. Thirty seconds is what we aim for on my boat,” said Gervais after collecting her winnings, $100 and power tools.

Education and advocacy also play a key role at the expo. Opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine was a theme in the expo’s featured educational events as well as at the booths in the Alaska Hall, the area of the expo dedicated to fishing in the 49th state. Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay and Businesses for Bristol Bay hosted a panel of business leaders who explained why their organizations oppose Pebble.

Panelists discussed the ways and reasons their organizations oppose Pebble Mine during a featured spotlight session of the Pacific Marine Expo's education program.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG

New Seasons and New Leaf Community Markets, which sell seafood in Portland, Seattle and California, are concerned that the proposed copper and gold mine poses too high a risk to regional salmon stocks.

“It’s a huge concern for us,” Daisy Berg, the seafood program and category manager, said. “The majority of our salmon comes from Bristol Bay. If we don’t have access to that resource during our three or four major sales during sockeye season, we would lose out on, in one week alone, about 25,000 pounds of salmon that goes through our doors. It’s a huge, huge portion of our business.”

Grundéns, Agua Dulce Freshwater Consulting and the Seattle Restaurant Alliance were also represented on the panel.

During the expo, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association held their board meeting, which was well attended by Bristol Bay fishermen, processors and other stakeholders. Recently named executive director, Andy Wink, wrote the Fall 2018 Sockeye Market Report, which released shortly before the expo began.

This year the expo drew more than 450 exhibitors.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG

It reads, “The 2018 sales season is far from over, but ASPR [Alaska Salmon Price and Production Reports] data for the key months of July-August is available and it is very encouraging. The first wholesale value of Bristol Bay sockeye products sold during July-August 2018 is 36 percent greater than the same period in the previous year and the average value per pound (for all products combined) increased from $4.01 to $4.51. Sales volume was up 21 percent…It’s still too early to predict with absolute certainty how the 2018 sales season will unfold, but available data and anecdotal information is positive.”

At the meeting, BBRSDA emphasized ensuring high quality product will “be vital in preserving these gains.”

The Pacific Marine Expo began Sunday, Nov. 18, and wrapped up Tuesday, Nov. 20, a change from its typical Thursday to Saturday schedule.

Even as Bristol Bay is finally seeing its first solid snows, the region is already gearing up for another summer of salmon fishing.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Meghan Gervais (center) won the title "Fisherman of the Year" for pulling on a survival suit in under 30 seconds.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG