Know your fisherman
MICHAEL & MADDIE O'LAIRE
Michael has been fishing for 16 years, catching all species of seafood. He now works on the F/V Dr. Jack fishing for wild sockeye salmon. Mike lives in beautiful Homer, Alaska with his wife Maddie, and their 8-year-old daughter Iris and their spunky Border Collie, Kai.
How did you get into fishing?
I got caught in some net and pulled on board! Just kidding. I always had dreams of living in Alaska and moved to Homer in 2001. Homer’s full of fishermen, so it was easy to find a fishing job. As soon as I started fishing, I had dreams of getting these beautiful wild fish to a proper market, which is what we do now with our business, Smart Source Seafood. It’s a dream come true for a fisherman to know that some of his catch is going to families all over the U.S. They are so appreciative of Wild Alaska Salmon and all the hard work that goes into it.
What makes you return to fishing each season?
It’s a lifestyle decision. When I commercial fish, in the off season, I’m able to travel with my family and have more free time. When I’m not fishing, I’m a carpenter, and I’m able to help my wife Maddie with Smart Source Seafood. Marketing the fish is a lot of work and it’s great that we can do it as a family. I also enjoy hunting, gathering, and gardening when I’m home and I try to take several weeks in the fall to fill our freezer with wild game. I couldn’t do this working a normal 9-5.
First Fish – What do you do with it? (Kiss it? Throw it back? Eat it?)
We throw it in the hold! There are usually so many more coming there’s not time to play around with it. Before it hits the bottom of the hold, I’ve already picked several fish out of the web.
What do you do on the 4th of July? Is it a blur of fishing? Do you mark it in anyway?
We pick fish and light fireworks. It’s our crew member’s birthday, so we celebrate.
What’s life on the boat like when there’s a closure or downtime?
There’s not very much space on board, so I like to get off the boat and look for treasures on the beach to bring home to my family. It’s an incredible place to beach comb.
What’s the best part of the season?
I love being part of the biggest sockeye salmon run in the world, and being out on the water in a place as beautiful, wild and pristine as Bristol Bay. Seeing these enormous runs of salmon is truly amazing.
What does being a "commercial fisherman" mean to you?
What do you want the people who buy/eat your fish to know?
I want them to know they’re eating a very special, sustainable product and it’s something that we have to fight for to protect from big business like mines and power companies. Bristol Bay is vital for national food security. Studies show that our countries’s fisheries can support our demand for wild salmon, yet we import 86% of our seafood, and export a third of it. This is crazy. We must support our local fisheries and buy seafood sustainably harvested in the United States.
What’s your favorite salmon recipe?
Add oil to a smoking hot griddle. Add fresh salmon, cut super thin, sprinkled with flour and Old Bay. Sear on each side for 20 seconds (seriously, that’s it) Served with generous amounts of mayonnaise and Sriracha.
Any details you’d like to talk about?
To paraphrase Paul Greenberg, since we import so much of our seafood in the U.S. Americans are becoming more detached from preserving our valuable wild fisheries. With so much farmed salmon being imported, we turn a blind eye to proposed projects that could destroy our fisheries, like Pebble Mine. Our relationship with our environment doesn’t get more intimate than eating from it and it’s about time we realize that if we don’t fight for the protection of our fisheries, they will be a thing of the past, just like so many other fisheries. Educating people is 50% of our business. Many of our customers are return customers, or referrals. We see our customers spreading the word on social media about the importance of buying wild caught seafood. That is really, really cool. Observing a growing consciousness about the importance of eating wild caught fish makes all the hard work worth it. Seeing the success of our family business, based on Bristol Bay salmon, is a dream come true.