I recognize that color from a mile away. Tomato red, like a jewel glistening in the sun, fresh Alaska salmon flesh is nothing like the faded peach color that is labeled as "salmon" in clothing catalogs. When I saw Jeff filleting salmon on a makeshift fish-processing table (pallets+cardboard) in front of his house, I stopped by to offer some help.
Jeff Collins is a fellow teacher and owner/operator of Kigluaik Endurance Company (which offers fatbike and snowshoe rentals), and is also an avid fisher, hunter, and gatherer. These activities, collectively referred to as "subsistence," are fundamental to life in the region. Living in Nome, it is surprisingly easy to be guided by the subsistence routine to the point of prioritizing it over everything else. Coming from an athletic background, Jeff promotes a “human-powered” approach to subsistence and recreation with his business, but snowmachines and 4-wheelers are the more common tools of the trade.
Life is expensive here. Fresh foods and meats are priced especially high, and I often stand in front of the produce section and wonder whether those bruised apples are really worth $6/pound, or whether I’m close enough to scurvy to pay $5 for some wilted greens. This reality makes that fresh salmon all the more delicious.
By the end of the night, we had caught and processed around 45 salmon, which we shared among half a dozen families. Reciprocal sharing is what has upheld 10,000 years of Inupiaq settlement here, and it continues today.
Growing up in Anchorage, harvesting fish and berries from the wild meant making a special trip solely focused on the task at hand. In Nome, harvesting, preparing, and sharing wild foods is more than an activity, it is a lifestyle, and is of utmost cultural importance for indigenous and non-indigenous residents alike.
Earlier this year I had the incredible opportunity to enmesh social time, exercise, and food all together in the activity of ice-crabbing. A couple times each week, my partner and I would ski together with two other families (both of whom often brought their small children along) and our dogs around a mile out on the sea ice to check the two crab pots we had set in March. Sometimes we were rewarded with half a dozen delectable Red King crab, but even when we only pulled up inedible starfish, the trips never felt like a waste given the fun of heading out onto the ice with friends and dogs.
If you have the time, I would strongly recommend making a stop at the mouth of the Nome River, around 4 miles East of town. You will hardly find a summer moment when there are not at least a few folks fishing, either with rod and reel from the shore, or gillnetting from a skiff.
Fishing licenses can be purchased online or at the AK Fish & Game office on Front Street. While you're there, pick up a copy of the Nome Roadside Fishing Guide, and join in the fun!
Even if you head back to town empty handed, the bounty of the land and sea can be enjoyed in town as well. Treat yourself to the freshest Red King Crab you'll ever taste at Pingo Bakery-Seafood House, and you can also get surprisingly good sushi from several restaurants on Front Street.
Later on, have a drink at one of the many bars in town, or maybe you're in the mood for a stroll along the beach to look for beach glass, crab shells, and other treasures. In the morning, be sure to stop by Bering Tea Co. to plan your day over a cup of coffee and a fresh-baked scone.