The Strange Rewards and Follies of Bristol Bay’s Great Salmon Run
Deep in Southwest Alaska, surrounded by mosquito- and grizzly-infested tundra, lies an abandoned salmon cannery known locally as Graveyard Point. The cannery sits at the mouth of the Kvichak River, one of the many bodies of water that empty into Bristol Bay, home to North America’s last great sockeye-salmon run.
Every June and July, about 130 commercial fishermen from around the US converge on the area and take up residence in broken-down dormitories and dilapidated shacks that have otherwise sat empty for decades. The fishermen are Christians, Mormons, atheists, and neo-Luddites. They are ex-convicts, construction workers, dog mushers, trappers, suburbanites, city slickers, and Native Americans. Most days there is a quiet camaraderie among the disparate squatter groups, but intense periods of round-the-clock fishing and the ensuing sleep-deprivation-driven mania occasionally stir up gunfire and conflict between rival fishing families.
The community at Graveyard Point teeters on the edge of a sandy bluff overlooking a vast delta of extremes. Coffins fall into the sea, and the bones of unnamed fisherman collect at the tide’s edge. Dogs roam the beach, chasing bears and four-wheelers. The fishing work happens at a furious pace as tens of millions of sockeye arrive at what seems like precisely the same moment every year. Nets are rapidly sunk by the masses of fish, while extreme tides tear through canyons of undersea mud. Men and women work 20-hour days in small open boats regardless of the weather. Great fortunes can be earned or lost, depending on a fisherman’s skill, luck, and avoidance of injury.
I’ve been a fisherman in this community for the past four years, taking these photos along the way.
Love pictures? We do too! Check these out: