For Alaska Seafood, sustainability doesn’t just relate to fish. It’s about creating a sustainable workforce, attracting new talent and promoting the industry as a great place to work. Over the next four months, Alaska Seafood will be unearthing the future stars of the hospitality industry. In part one, we meet Bristol Bay-based fisherman and blogger Susie Brito
What is your job title and what does the role entail?
I am a commercial fisherman, net hanger, subsistence fisherman and business partner as well as being a practicing registered nurse, freelance writer and food blogger. In rural Alaska, to be successful, one must wear many hats!
How did you get involved in this industry?
I was born and raised in Alaska, sport fishing, camping and dog mushing in the Matanuksa Valley. When a summer job with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game landed me in Bristol Bay, my true love affair with salmon began. I wanted to be on the deck upon the waves, and in this quest I met my husband, Bronson. Ten years, 10 cycles of salmon later, we still manage to keep an even keel in our lives, on and off the water.
What do you love about it?
More than the act of fishing it is the people in rural Alaska who are generous with their time and resources that make me love it here. They have taught me to hang gear; to can, salt and to make traditional strips from salmon. When someone gets a few extra king salmon and your net pulls up short, they share their bounty unerringly.
What do you find challenging?
The commercial fishery is entirely consuming. Our boat will leave the harbour and not return for weeks on end. The work is unlike anything I can compare it to. Imagine being exhausted, hungry because you are too tired to cook, near the limit of your capacity, and then pushing yourself harder to make another set, pick another load and sleep later. It weighs on our family but there is a certain joy and excitement that comes with this life that is unparalleled.
Who was your biggest icon growing up that inspired this career choice?
I loved Susan Butcher and Dee Dee Jonrowe, two women sleddog mushers who ran the Iditarod Trail among nearly all men. The women I have worked alongside, who are unfalteringly tougher than most men I’ve met, who expect me to be just as tough – those are the icons worth having.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
My husband and I intend to have two boats in the Bay and our children on the water for as much of the season as possible. I also hope to write a cookbook, sharing food and life here in Bristol Bay.
What advice would you give to those trying to break into this industry?
There are many women around me in Alaska that are breaking barriers in their industries and paving a way for others. Find a mentor or a network of people to learn from, then work to become one for others. I am where I am today from people freely sharing knowledge with me and I in turn try to do the same. Build each other up and be bold!
Look out for part two of Sustainable Futures in the 12 October issue