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Salmon Fishing In St. Paul: Building A New Subsistence Resource

Courtesy Lauren Divine


Gregory Fratis Sr. isn’t a fan of salmon.

“Fresh cooked salmon, uh, uh. I don’t like it,” said Fratis. “I can taste that fishy taste.”

The 76-year-old says salmon aren’t worth the trouble. It takes too more time to catch and process each individual fish. To fill his freezer for the year, he’d rather catch seal, one of the Pribilof Islands’ traditional foods.

“We are the people of the seal,” he said. “That’s part of our diet. We are recognized through the fur seal. It’s our culture, too. The seal has everything to do with us Aleuts as food, as arts and crafts, as everything.”

But Fratis was also one of the first people on the island to go looking for salmon. Back in the early 1980s, someone told him about a salmon he discovered washed up on the beach. Fratis found a net and set out to see if he could catch some. After a bit of trial and error, he caught his first salmon.

“I took it home, excited,” he said. “Looked at it. Cooked it.”

All five salmon species have been found in the island’s salt lagoon. Now, the Aleut Community of St. Paul’s tribal council is hoping to get more residents interested in salmon fishing for two main reasons. First, salmon is a healthy food. Second, fishing is a great form of exercise.

Tribal council president Amos Philemonoff is onboard with the idea.

“Who can deny catching a salmon isn’t fun?” said Philemonoff. “The reward of going home and baking a whole salmon, it’s wonderful.”

Currently, there are no regulations on salmon fishing in St. Paul. The community doesn’t keep a count on how many fish there are, but Philemonoff estimates there are several hundred in the lagoon. That’s not much for a community of 500.

For the most part, residents get their salmon fix by trading with people off the island.

Philemonoff says the community is looking into enhancing the run to increase the amount of healthy food available on the island.

“All of the junk food they’ve got down at the store is pretty cheap,” he said. “You can buy five or six pizzas for a box of ammunition to go get these sea ducks or reindeer. What are you going to do? Are you going to get five pizzas and feed your family or are you going to buy a box of shells?”

Fratis isn’t ready to add salmon to his diet, but he fishes to stay active. It gets him out of the house. In the summers, he’ll spend eight or nine hours in the lagoon walking and catching up with other community members.

Even though he doesn’t enjoy the taste of salmon, he’s looking forward to developing the salmon resource, too.

“Imagine derbys and everything,” said Fratis. “Recreation starts. That gets you out of the house. Who knows? I may start eating salmon.”

Before that can happen, the community needs to establish if it’s even possible to enhance the resource and settle on the simplest way to increase the salmon in St. Paul.

Zoë Sobel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2019. She returned to KUCB after a year living in Nepal and Malaysia as a Luce Scholar. She then returned to KUCB as a ProPublica reporter August of 2020 through August of 2021.
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