Editor’s Note: Dustin Solberg, staffer for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska, is working for a month this summer on a commercial salmon fishing crew in Bristol Bay. The Conservancy began protecting wild salmon habitat in Bristol Bay more than 10 years ago and this work continues today in the face of looming development threats. Read all his “Pulling the Nets” posts over the next month and follow his progress aboard a fisherman’s skiff in remote Alaska.
Wednesday, June 23: It’s nearing midnight. We’re out in the skiff, having set our pair of 25 fathom salmon nets for the first time. The rain has mostly let up, and, for a while, a gap in the clouds let through the first sunlight we’d seen since I arrived in this fishing village a week ago.
After the hustle of preparing a skiff and nets and a truck (a tie-rod assembly broke in two at the last minute) we set the nets and then, for a few moments, simply waited for the first time in what seemed like days.
Looking north toward the heart of Alaska, clouds covered the peaks of the rugged Wood-Tikchik Range. Out to the Bering Sea stretched a sea and sky that could have been the same.
Because it’s so early in the season, and the salmon run is still barely a trickle, few fishermen are out this night. We cut the outboard engine and in the still air we hear only the water dappling on the hull – and a few quick bursts of air just down the bay.
What was that noise? A few beluga whales feeding a hundred yards up the shoreline, diving, rising and blowing an exhalation of air visible in the low light of evening.
The belugas and we fishermen have come for the same reason: we’re here for the salmon. Were the belugas feeding on migrating salmon? Quite possibly – it’s what they do. Just another example of how nature runs on salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.