Last commercial fishing season, Brian Chase made a special trip to the fish buying station to deliver a single Kenai Wild fish.
"That made him a hero," said Liz Chase, his mother.
Brian, an 18-year-old about to graduate from Soldotna High School, has chosen commercial fishing as a career, hoping to take a profession that has become a money pit for many and turn it into an attractive career option by participating in the Kenai Wild program.
"To keep the tradition alive," Brian said.
Kenai Wild is a trademarked brand of salmon that markets high-quality Cook Inlet sockeye salmon to high-value retail outlets. Fishers gut, bleed and ice their fish on the spot to maintain the quality.
Brian, who comes from a family of commercial fishers, said fishing is his passion and wants to do it the rest of his life. However, in recent years, the price fishers have received for their salmon has dropped.
"It's kind of been a losing battle as far as money goes," he said. "It's not a profitable business."
In fact, his mother said their family has struggled to break even in recent years.
But traditions and a passion for the trade inspires the Chase family to keep fishing every year.
"It's the one thing for our family to do to keep us together," Liz said.
But Brian said he also wants to make a decent living.
Last season, he took control of a family commercial permit that gives him control over three setnet sites. Last summer was his first year operating on his own. He had one crew member and worked hard to take care of his Kenai Wild product and his other fish, he said.
Liz said she is a believer in the Kenai Wild program, but she thinks it is important for young people to become interested in the profession in order to make the program work.
"When we're gone, who's going to carry the torch?" she asked.
Brandii O'Reagan, owner of Integrity Seafood Inspection Services, oversees the Kenai Wild quality program and has been in the fishing industry for almost 15 years. In the 1980s, there were a lot of people becoming commercial fishers because it was so profitable, she said. Now, she said it is rare.
"There have been very few young people buying into it," O'Reagan said. "It really is an aging industry."
Last season, Brian fished with enthusiasm, attention to detail and delivered some beautiful fish for Kenai Wild, she said. The way he embraced changes in the industry could help attract more people to it, she said.
Brian is so enthused about his chosen profession and Kenai Wild, that he was named rookie fisherman of the year by the program and is becoming a Kenai Wild ambassador.
Brian will travel with Cook Inlet Salmon Branding Inc., the company that owns Kenai Wild, to Michigan and Ohio in March to help promote Kenai Wild at retail outlets, he said.
In the past, he said potential Kenai Wild customers said they would like to meet the fishers, so he is going to help customers put a face with the product.
"It's important that the Kenai Wild program works," he said.
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