Five years ago the dock price for our wild Alaska coho salmon plummeted. My commercial fisherman husband was working just as hard to troll up coho from the sparkling water of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage, but market forces beyond our control meant he had a tough time making a living even though customers around the country were still paying the same price at the fish counter.
At the time we had an old schoolhouse in the Alaska wilderness that we used as a cabin. As we sat pondering and gazing through its antique windows at the glaciers and crags of the Coast Range, a solution simmered up. We decided to turn a challenge into an opportunity and try selling our own fish!
Schoolhouse Fish Co. was born.
We started by keeping things simple and among friends. We got groups of people together to pick up bulk orders at Alaska Air Cargo stations in their cities. Our friends were happy to get free fish for helping out, and their friends were stoked to fill their freezers with wild, sustainable seafood caught responsibly by people they know.
Brilliant silver cohos, spawned on the streams of our rainforest home in the Tongass National Forest and pulled aboard our 42 ft. salmon troller one by one, are our bread and butter. But we also realized we could build value by creating markets for species like lingcod and rockfish that get pulled up when Eric goes longlining for halibut. Building on the idea of adding value, we began carving out the delicious and all too often discarded halibut “cheeks” from our halibut heads and marketing those as well. A vision came to fruition: through directly marketing our catch we could stabilize our income, focus on quality rather than quantity, and connect our friends more meaningfully to the places and communities involved in harvesting their seafood.
We started calling these shipments to friends “Fish Clubs” and developed an efficient way for our local “Captains” to get seafood shares to their “crews” via e-commerce. You can see how it works right here. A real “community supported fishery,” we now take pre-orders in the spring for Fish Clubs that ship a fresh selection to communities across the US every month from June to October.
This “Fish Club” business model connects our hardworking fishing community here in Petersburg, Alaska to diverse communities around the U.S. through a shared love and reverence for wild fish. Not only can we share stories with our customers about the beautiful places we catch fish, we can help people understand how fragile the future of Alaska’s wild fisheries are against the threat of development and climate change. We love partnering with conservation groups, outfits like Hunt To Eat, and local people to tell stories about how to protect our salmon-based way of life here in Alaska. Over time, we’ve realized that “sustainable seafood” is not just a label, it’s a way of doing business. With Schoolhouse Fish Co. we can live our values by slowing down the marketplace and building a relationship between customers and community, seafood and place. Ultimately though, it’s the magic of wild fish that brings it all together and to that, we bow in humility and reverence.
You can sign up to Captain your own club or maybe join an existing club in your city at SchoolhouseFish.com.