A family friend recommended I interview Trish during my visit to Ketchikan this past July. She's known in town as quite the go-getting, community-spirited entrepreneur. When it comes to unfamiliar industries, fishing is absolutely one. I was thrilled to learn more. And straight from the source? What an opportunity.
Our interview ended up being a catalyst for change in my personal life in a very real way. Trish is one of the most earnest, ardent, resourceful women I have ever met. She left behind her entire world to pursue a new frontier. She did so courageously, undaunted by the ripples such a life shift would inevitably make. Bottomline—Trish adventured for herself because anything less would have left so much of her spirit uncharted. Now, years later, she is thriving.
I am inspired by her fearlessness. Meeting Trish compelled me to look within and listen to my inner voice; to adventure for Celene. Months later I am doing just that.
Walk us through the first 5 minutes of you day.
My day starts at about 5 AM. I'll have a cup of coffee, look at my bank statement, start reading emails, and answer phone calls. It used to start even earlier than that; my customers would call me at two in the morning because it was six in the morning their time. I had to put a halt to that habit, so I now start at five. Work at the plant begins at 6 AM. I check on the freezers and coolers, review ice levels, determine what product needs to go out for the day, etc. I leave notes for all of my employees’ job duties and then I get to selling the fish.
How did you end up in Alaska?
The answer to that is easy. My oldest daughter, Ashley, was in the Coast Guard, which is based in Sitka. I came to visit her from Illinois and fell in love with it. Alaska was so quiet and green; the people were amazingly friendly and always so helpful. I made a lot of friends. Ashley ended up being stationed there for another six months, I believe, and we got pretty close. So, I stayed and watched the fisherman unload fish. I thought the process was pretty cool; I could see where the seafood originated before it arrived in the grocery store. I went back to Illinois and, at that point, decided I needed to return. Before I could change my mind I had packed up a suitcase (or two!) and left for Alaska permanently.
What led to this career path?
I started working at a local grocery store in Alaska called AC. I met many different kinds of fishermen, including power trollers, hand trollers, sport fisherman, gillnetters and seiners. I had never seen so many boats before; big boats, small boats, logic boats, private yachts, and cruise ships. My job at AC was to promote the grocery store. The owners were brand new and were concerned about losing local customers. While I was working, there was one particular fisherman who always stopped by. Coffee, flowers, and a date later, he asked me to jump on his boat after work one day and vac seal rock fish. After multiple asks, I finally said yes, knowing nothing about vac sealing or fishing for that matter. He explained the process, we hopped on the boat for a ride, and I was hooked. Two months later I quit my job and went fishing with him. I fished for three straight years and my life has never been the same since.
From sea to table, you maintain control over each link in the process. How does this set you apart from other fish suppliers? What are the benefits of having your own processing plant?
It doesn't really set me apart from other fish suppliers to just be in control over each link in the process. What sets me apart is that I know what consumers want from their supplier. I opened my processing plant for many reasons. The biggest reason, however, was to provide quality product. That’s what I know and that is what I do. Between making sure the fishing boats themselves are clean to ensuring the fisherman I buy from care for their fish as much as I do, I strive for quality product. Most fish suppliers in my industry are aiming for quantity. That isn’t my goal. I have fished in the same waters as most of the boats I buy from. I have seen firsthand how they care for their fish, how they clean their boats and maintain their fish. Quality product begins with quality fisherman.
Owning a processing plant has other amazing benefits, too. I get to choose the fisherman I buy from and get to listen to their amazing stories about life at sea. I can dance in my processing plant alone, crank up my music. Plus, I get to see all the smiling faces of my customers and talk to each of them about why they buy my product.
Trish in front of her new shop in Downtown Ketchikan.
Do you supply fish to other shops in town, restaurants, etc., in addition to your own?
Yes—I provide to numerous restaurants in town along with shops that carry our product. My retail store also carries our product. There you can pick up fresh or frozen fish. We have now expanded into a larger boutique café, which I am very excited about.
Describe your relationship with the fisherman. How has it evolved over the years?
When it comes to my relationship with the fisherman, I feel they respect me. I respect them for what they do and how hard they work. I believe 98% of them stick up for me; we have a family relationship of sorts. How has it evolved over the years? Well, I've certainly argued with a lot of them. But, in the long run I think they believe in me and recognize how hard I work to get their amazing product to niche markets.
As a woman, how has your experience in the fishing industry been different?
I can speak for every female deckhand when I say it's hard work but well worth it. I believe most men respect women working on boats, as long as they see them working as hard as they do. As a plant owner, being a woman is more challenging. There are a lot of sneaky people in this industry. I try to be as straightforward as I can but ultimately it's not an industry that is particularly friendly towards women. You have to be strong; you need a tough skin and have to focus only on what’s important. Ignore the negativity. This industry has tried to hurt me but when I remember why I opened in the first place, I let it go. I don't think anyone can take that feeling away.
What does the future of sustainable fishing look like?
I believe Alaska's fish and game management program will shape the future of fishing. ADFG works hard for us (the suppliers) to continue fishing sustainably. SARA is another amazing program. The state really does a successful job balancing environmental limits with industry needs.
How can consumers support sustainable fishing?
Make sure not to buy farmed fish. Wild caught is the only way to go.
Life on the dock with fisherman friends.
Life at sea seems to produce harrowing, awesome stories. Tell us one!
I have so many amazing stories. The scariest one was when we were anchored up at sea and the wind increased to 110mph. It hit our boats, which caused the anchor to get wrapped up in our stabilizer. When that happens, the boats starts sinking. I have never seen a captain and deckhand move that fast. As soon as the anchor popped loose, we got out of there quickly!
My first trip out to sea was an experience to say the least. The first few days were amazing; it was a little bouncy out there on the ocean but not too terrible. On the third day the weather started looking pretty bad. Initially, there were so many boats. But as the weather worsened, boats would take off and disappear, one by one. At the end, it was my boat and a Canadian boat. It was as though we were playing chicken with one another; who was going to anchor first? Guthrie, our Captain, kept saying, “One more pass!” These became famous words. I remember I was in the pit cleaning fish while waves came over the side of boat, splashing me constantly. Guthrie was standing in the doorway with his thumbs up, signaling, “You’re doing amazing!” Then, all at once, a big wave came overboard. I looked up and decided that was it. I hung on for my life while the wave covered the entire deck and all of my fish in the pit. Once it passed, I cleaned my last fish and ran inside to sit on my bed. The silverware, plates, everything and anything that wasn’t fastened down, was flying towards me. I looked around and wondered, "Where everyone else had gone? Where was the Canadian boat?" We had definitely won the game of chicken because it was just us—we were the only boat left out there. Guthrie called and let me know the next wave was going to hurt. It hit the boat so hard and so loudly it sounded like a cannon ball. He was trying to turn into Anchorage but couldn’t get the boat to cooperate.
Eventually we got to seemingly calm water with a sunny spot, no rain, no waves. I was relieved. Little did I know, it was actually a sucker hole. Guthrie had to move the boat fast, and I mean fast! I remember I asked for five minutes alone; I went outside, cried my eyes out, and prayed. I asked for the strength to do this—to stay on the boat. I ended up fishing through the end of the season and stayed with Guthrie another three years. My life was amazing. I felt so fortunate to see and experience what I did.
What’s the hardest part of your job? What is the most rewarding?
The hardest part of my job is not having the time to go fishing myself. My business has definitely tied me down and I miss that part of the experience. The most rewarding part is delivering my product to my customers. I am able to sell to restaurants in New York, Chicago, California, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Paris. It’s amazing and the people I have met are passionate about what I do. They know my quality. Someone who cares about the product, like a chef, gets it. All of my orders are custom, special orders, and are hand picked as such.
Home sweet home! Trish's house is just a few steps from the dock, which makes her sunrise commute super quick.
What’s one thing you do daily to nurture your mind, body, or spirit?
I have to be honest—I do not take enough time for myself, my mind, my body, or my spirit. I do drive up the mountain sometimes and look out at the amazing landscape. I’d say that where I live nurtures me; every day I can take time to stop and smell the salmon berries. Otherwise I aim for hikes.
What’s the last thing you saw or read that inspired you?
When both my parents told me how proud they are of me.
What’s the greatest thing you’ve learned about yourself through your work?
I have learned that I am a stronger woman than I ever knew.
What lessons have you learned from the women in your life?
The women in my life have taught me so many things. For one, how to be strong but not too strong. They've taught me patience. They explained what not do, watched me do it anyway, and then supported me when I failed. And my best friend, Ramona. I couldn't have done this without her.
Trish's company mascot and BFF, Meaty. Handsome fella, no?
To learn more about Trish's company and purchase her fresh seafood directly, be sure to visit her website!