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Know your Fisherman:

Maggie Bursch

Maggie was born into the fishing industry. She’s been commercial fishing for 17 years and owns the F/V Georgette Rose.

“The independence and empowerment of running my own boat and business brings me back to Bristol Bay each season.”

 

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Why did you get into fishing?

I was born into it and raised in the summers on a set net camp.

What makes you return to Bristol Bay each fishing season?  

My family is a big one - my mom has a set net operation, my dad has a boat and my sister works for him, and then I have my boat. It is a time we share in parallel struggle. It can be really hard to work together as a family, and honestly I don't see them that often, but it is a shared experience that we support each other through and celebrate at the end!

The independence and empowerment of running my own boat and business brings me back to Bristol Bay each season. I love making the calls and calculating how to do things to the best of my ability. Fishing is a constant challenge - it never gets boring and you can never learn everything there is to know. I love being pushed physically, mentally, and emotionally far past my limits. The challenge of it keeps me coming back for more because you can always be a better fisherman.

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What’s special about Bristol Bay salmon?

I would pick up any fish I sell and eat it for dinner. I would pick up any fish I sell and feed it to the Queen. It used to not be this way; when I was little, we didn't practice the highest quality and we would pick out the nice fish, treat them differently and eat those. Now they are all nice fish, we treat them all like we are feeding them to the most esteemed guests. 

Our fish have been fed by nature. They have been eating wild food and swimming hard for it. These fish are strong. They have swum across the Pacific Ocean at least twice. They breed naturally and then swim wild which means the fish we catch are the fighters, the survivors. They have been naturally selected as the best, the strongest, the wildest, the oiliest, and the yummiest! 

Bristol Bay salmon are sustainable. Biologists are counting and managing the fishery every day and telling us how many hours we can fish the following day. We are catching the fish just outside their birth rivers, so once they get past the fishing grounds and into the river they are home safe and can spawn for future generations. The biologists are counting how many make it up the river to make sure we will always have enough for the future. 

Whom do you typically fish with? Tell us about your crew.

It has changed over the years, but my dear friend Kaya Morelli and I have spent nine out of the past 11 salmon seasons together. She started working for my family when she was 13 and now she is the deck boss on my boat. This year my other crew hand is Jess, a writer/skier from Jackson, WY who keeps us laughing in the hardest moments, works hard and learns fast. Then for peak I have got Keeley coming up from Bellingham, WA. She is a geology student who has recently gotten a taste for fishing.

What’s it like Commercial Fishing in Bristol Bay?

Commercial fishing in Bristol Bay is like a six-week backcountry expedition except you are working every day, 12-hour days, sometimes 20-hour or even 24-hour days. You are living with the same three people the whole time - cooking, eating, sleeping, cleaning, always within two or three feet of them. The tides are stronger than I have seen anywhere in the world; the wind is strong and the landscape is flat and bare. The coolest part by far is the salmon. When the salmon come it is like a wall. Imagine all the salmon you possibly can. Now multiply that by 100 and untangle them all from a net!

Do you have any unique fishing traditions that you do during the season?

The first fish we catch we kiss and let go so that it can live on for future generations. If fishing is bad I will eat a salmon eyeball so I can see where the salmon are. We also keep a box of Lucky Charms on board and eat them when we need some extra luck!

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What is your favorite way to prepare Bristol Bay sockeye salmon?

It changes a lot, but recently I have really been enjoying it raw: poke, sashimi and sushi. 

I also think canned salmon is underrated. I LOVE it! I eat it on camping trips or pack it for lunches. You can mix it with mayo and make salmon salad, or mix it up with some eggs and crackers and make salmon patties. I also like just throwing a can on top of a big green salad; it adds protein and flavor and will stick with you all day!

"Commercial fishing in Bristol Bay is like a six-week backcountry expedition except you are working every day, 12-hour days, sometimes 20-hour or even 24-hour days."

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience as a Bristol Bay fisherman?

I am proud of Bristol Bay, my boat and the salmon I produce. If you are eating Bristol Bay salmon know we are proud to share it with you. We are proud of what we do and who we are. We are proud to be a part of Bristol Bay.

What words of wisdom would you give to someone who was considering becoming a commercial fisherman?

Make sure you really want to do it, because if you don't like it, it's no fun all. You don't want to be the grumpy person on the boat that brings everyone else down. It is all about attitude and is way more mentally and emotionally challenging than anything else due to the isolation and proximity to others.  


 

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