Sockeye salmon at Bristol Bay, Alaska   

In what’s got to rank near the top for savvy promotions, Bristol Bay sockeye salmon will be featured for a week next month at nearly 30 restaurants in Washington, DC.

“Really they signed up very quickly. All we had to do was tell people we have this massive wild salmon fishery in Bristol bay Alaska, the largest in the world, and we want to create a special event around that to connect people to the place that it comes from and the people.”

Andy Wink is director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, funded and operated by fishermen.

The group was able to build Salmon Week based on chef and retail relationships it has cemented in recent years, and through its use of catchy and far reaching promotions, in stores and on social media.

The name building outreach is bankrolled by a one percent tax on the catches of the Bay’s nearly 1,600 drift gillnetters, a tax they’ve paid since 2006. For 2018, that added up to $3 million.

From the get-go the group invested in chilling systems and infrastructure to boost overall fish quality. Processors rewarded chilling with bonuses that this year could pay fishermen $1.65 a pound or more.

Wink says chilling has been the association’s best return on investment.

“When you look at it from an ROI perspective you know that chilled fish are getting bonuses of usually 20 cents of better and that chilling often unlocks bonuses which are far in excess of 20 cents. These are really high returning projects for us. Last year when we added it all up, the amount of chilled fish we produced by RSDA investments almost paid for all of the funding that we would normally get through the assessment.”

Why should Alaskans elsewhere care about salmon catches at Bristol Bay that this year totaled 43 million?

“Bristol Bay, in the context of the Alaska salmon industry, is really a market moving fishery. I believe it was in 2018 it was about half of Alaska’s total salmon value.”

And all but three Alaska regions are home to fishermen who fish at Bristol Bay.

“I think the only borough and census areas that don’t have a Bristol Bay permit holder are Nome census area, Skagway, and Yakutat. Every other place has some residents who own a commercial fishing permit at Bristol bay. You’d be hard pressed to find any other fishery that has that type of scale and scope to it. So what happens in Bristol Bay affects the entire state in a lot of different ways.”

Bristol Bay Salmon Week in DC runs September 16-20.  List of restaurants below:  

Art and Soul
Blue Duck Tavern
The Bombay Club
Brasserie Beck
Brothers and Sisters
Brookland’s Finest
Call Your Mother Deli
Coppi’s Organic
The District Fishwife
Fast and Saucy food truck
High Street Café
Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian
Neopol Savory Smokery (three locations in DC & Baltimore)
The Red Hen
The Salt Line
Slapfish DC
Spoken English