We met Michael and Nelly Hand of the artisanal fishery, Drifters Fish, in Cordova, Alaska where they met and where they spend long days fishing the season from the “Pelican,” their 31 foot gillnetter boat purchased this spring.
Although the Pelican is a recent acquisition, the Hands have been fishing together for four years. Before that, Michael fished with his cousin and Nelly with her dad. She laughed as she recalled how her dad would start driving his boat in the opposite direction if he spotted the boat Michael was on.
They took us aboard and described the frantic pace of the season. Starting in May, the duo fish for 24-48 hour shifts at a time, twice a week, during the gillnetter openers. However, they sometimes don’t come into town to step foot on land for 2-4 weeks at a time. On these longer stretches, they are brought supplies by the ‘tenders’ boats and offload their fresh catch onto other boats.
The days they do come back to harbor, are just as busy. They are mending the nets, doing boat maintenance, preparing and packaging the fish, and spending hours on phone calls with chefs at restaurants like Seattle’s Canlis.
When the season is over, Michael and Nelly spend a lot of time traveling in their burgundy colored Volkswagon van, which was their first married home. They would finish fishing at the end of the summer and "drive until Christmas." Although they now have a home-base on Guemes Island in the Puget Sound, they still love to get out and explore in their van. Just recently, they spent two months in northwestern Montana, where they fly-fished and camped among the wildflowers.
Hear more about Michael and Nelly, their fishing business, and their travels in the full audio interview below: