Know your Fisherman:
Kara fishes with her boyfriend Taran White aboard the F/V Thunder. Commercial fishing in Bristol Bay gives her purpose. During the off-season she and Taran run their direct market business, Thunder’s Catch.
"From a young age, I was raised to have reverence for our earth, and fishing in the Bay has only reinforced that respect."
How long have you been fishing?
I have spent three seasons up in Bristol Bay. My boyfriend Taran, however, has time on me tenfold! He’s spent 35 seasons fishing up there. His parents have been commercial fishing for the last 43 years, so Taran was right there with them from the start. Even as a babe, Taran was on the back deck of his father’s boat, F/V Vulcan, in the backpack his mom wore, while she picked fish from sun up to sun down, and then some.
"There’s so much beauty in the Bay’s rugged, rustic, raw simplicity. It’s a respite retreat from the concerns back home. It’s solace for my soul."
How did you get into commercial fishing?
I was invited to setnet with my dear friend Tyga White (Taran’s sister!) in 2015. She needed a crewman and had a hunch I would love it enough to come back. Hook, line, sinker!
Whom do you fish with?
I spend the the majority of the season setnetting with Tyga. She and her cousin do a killer job co-running the operation on the beach that both of their moms started 43 years ago. We have four sites, a young, spry crew and we fish aggressively! It’s a lot of fun.
At the end of the season, I hop on Taran’s boat, Thunder. Normally this is when the season is slowing down, he’s sent his other crewmen home, and it’s just the two of us scratch-fishing until we’re one of the last boats remaining in the Bay.
What makes you return to Bristol Bay each fishing season?
I yearn for it, I crave it. It’s the community, it’s the purpose, it’s the bountiful Alaskan waters, the honest to goodness work, the pursuit.
There’s so much beauty in the Bay’s rugged, rustic, raw simplicity. It’s a respite retreat from the concerns back home. It’s solace for my soul.
What is your favorite way to prepare Bristol Bay sockeye salmon?
Grilled on a cedar plank with garlic, olive oil, a little brown sugar, salt + pepper. Garnished with seasonal berries like huckleberries, blueberries, or blackberries. This is how my Dad always prepared it when I was a kid, and it will always be my favorite.
Well before I even thought I would be a commercial fisherman, I loved salmon so much that it was what I requested for nearly every birthday meal from age 7 until today.
Do you have any unique traditions that you do during the season?
With Tyga and the beach crew, we make it a point to sit down for dinner, together as a crew, every single day. It may be at 3:30 p.m. before an opener, it may be at 11:30 p.m. Time is irrelevant. With tired eyes and cold, stiff hands, we squeeze around the table and refuel ourselves on gratitude and grace for the moment. Fish fast, live slow.
When you close your eyes and imagine yourself on the boat, what do you see?
I see a palate of muted blues, turquoise, greens, and soft greys contrasted with bright buoy-orange. I see the pastel sky harvesting a moon so palpably large you could reach out and touch it, the fire of sunset turning to embers of a sunrise on the horizon.
How do you describe the Bristol Bay waters & fishery to those who’ve never been?
Wild abundance of unfathomable proportion! The ecosystem isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving.
What has fishing in Bristol Bay taught you?
The ocean is mighty in her pulsing tides, her resilient abundance. From a young age, I was raised to have reverence for our earth, and fishing in the Bay has only reinforced that respect.
I’ve realized a passion in protecting our wild waters not just because it concerns my livelihood, but the American economy, our fragile environment, our sustainable food supply, our interconnected ecosystem, our native people, our tradition, and our future.
It’s also taught me to be an advocate for sustainable food systems, and knowing where your food comes from. Having a direct connection to my food source - and being that direct connection for my community back home - is pretty special.
What characteristics of the salmon product make it distinctive?
It’s wild-caught, it’s traceable, and sustainably hand harvested!
What words of wisdom would you give to someone who was considering becoming a commercial fisherman?
It demands grit, requires gumption, and elicits gratitude. You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked, be more tired than thought humanly possible, and question if your hands will ever be the same. They won’t, and you’ll be proud of it.