Salty Girl of the Month: Nelly Hand, Drifters Fish

Since we launched Salty Girl Seafood, one of the first things that people say is how much they love the name. Often we are asked, what does it mean to be a Salty Girl?  

salty: of the sea, sailing or life at sea.

This is a series of blogs honoring our kindred Salty Girls--women whose lives and livelihoods revolve around all things ocean.

It’s hard not to fall totally in love with Nelly, her husband, their salmon business (Drifters Fish), and their sweet VW van. From a day of hard work on the water, to marketing their catch directly to businesses around the country, to preparing some really gorgeous meals, Nelly makes balancing all of these seemingly disparate tasks look effortless. Like so many of our Salty Girls, life on the ocean runs in her family. After growing up spending summers fishing, it made sense that she’d one day forge out on her own.  Nelly and her husband, Michael, belong to a generation of fishermen who know the power of a good story and are finding ways to share their story with salmon lovers around the country; bringing people together over good food and stories of wild places. The work they do and the way in which they share their craft with the world is exactly why it’s important that fishing--our final pursuit of wild food--maintains its vital place in the culture and history of our country.

Check out their absolutely beautiful Instagram account @DriftersFish.

Nelly Hand, Salty Girl of the Month

SG: Who first got you hooked on the sea?
NH: My family. I started fishing with my dad on our family boat the Orion. My brothers and I were the crew and every summer we worked with dad fishing for pink salmon in Prince William Sound, Alaska. There are so many reasons why I love living and working on the water. I love the lifestyle of commercial fishing and the community it creates. I love working with my hands and even though the work is physically and mentally draining, whenever I catch my breath and look around - the mountains and the place we get to work is just incredible.

SG: When you’re not on the ocean, what are you doing?
NH: I spend time building Drifters Fish, a business my husband Michael and I created to sell our catch direct. During the winter I work distributing our frozen and smoked wild salmon around Western Washington. In the summer, I’m working on our little gillnet boat harvesting wild salmon and shipping the fish direct to restaurants across the US. When I’m not working on Drifters Fish, I try to get outside, hiking or harvesting wild food, as often as I can.

Drifters Fish, Salty Girl of the Month

SG: What has it been like to see Drifters become a reality?
NH: It has been so exciting and a lot of hard work to see Drifters Fish become a reality. I’ve loved the challenge of developing a business and the opportunity to creatively share about our livelihood and Alaska’s incredible seafood. We launched Drifters Fish in 2014 with the intention of creating a business to sell our catch direct from the fisherman to the consumer. Michael and I had both been involved with commercial fishing several years prior to launching Drifters and both had the shared enthusiasm of being more involved with the fish we were catching. We started sharing fish with friends and neighbors and then with further interest from more folks, we started to grow. We now run a Community Supported Fishery in Western Washington as well as ship fresh, wild salmon in the summer season direct to restaurants.

SG: When you close your eyes and think about your favorite time on the water, what do you see?
NH: Mid-June and Michael and I are in the busiest part of our fishing season. The days are getting so long in Alaska and we’re fishing around the clock for sockeye salmon. It’s eleven thirty at night and the sun is still glowing in the sky and the mountains are lit up. As tired as we are, I love this time of year and the rhythm we’ve settled into of working together out on the water and the daylight that seems to last forever.

Nelly Hand, Salty Girl of the Month

SG: What does a healthy ocean look like to you?
NH: Oceans provide the world with an incredible bounty and resource for healthy, wild protein. A healthy ocean is one being harvested respectfully and with care to protect and restore the valuable surrounding ecosystem. We all can work together towards a healthy ocean by supporting local, American small scale fisheries that practice sustainable harvesting.  

SG: What do you never leave home without?
NH: A moleskin notebook. These books are my every day. Grocery lists, business notes for Drifters Fish, recipes to make on the boat, and a place to press all those roadside wildflowers.  

Is there a Salty Girl in your life? Email us to share her story with us and nominate her as a monthly Salty Girl!

Salty Girl of the Month: Kimi Werner, professional freediving spearfisherwoman

Since we launched Salty Girl Seafood, one of the first things that people say is how much they love the name. Often we are asked, what does it mean to be a Salty Girl?  

salty: of the sea, sailing or life at sea.

This is a series of blogs honoring our kindred Salty Girls--women whose lives and livelihoods revolve around all things ocean.

Kimi Werner // Photo by Justin Turkowski

Kimi Werner // Photo by Justin Turkowski

From champion freediver, to ambassador for ocean conservation, and certified chef, we can’t help but be inspired by Kimi Werner. Her connection to the ocean stems from her family’s deep-rooted ties to harvesting their sustenance from the sea. Growing up off the grid in Maui, Kimi would tag along with her dad as he dove for their dinners. The ability to see first hand the process of harvesting food from the sea and preparing it to feed family led to a lifelong passion for cooking. Kimi’s passion to hunt to feed those she loves is still a major part of her relationship with the ocean.

You might assume that an ocean huntress who swims with great whites and has national titles in freediving could be pretty intimidating. But Kimi is approachable and humble--she shares openly her fears about her time underwater and how that fear is what makes her feel alive. As one of two women featured in Keith Malloy’s new documentary, FISHPEOPLE, we learn about Kimi’s ability to use her talents as a diver (including holding her breath for as long as 5 minutes!) to be as connected as possible to the ecosystem that sustains her.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Check out the tour schedule to find a FISHPEOPLE premier near you!

Kimi Werner // Photo by Sarah Wilcox

Kimi Werner // Photo by Sarah Wilcox

SG: Who first got you hooked on the sea?
KW: My dad first got me hooked on the sea.  He started taking me fishing and spearfishing when I was five years old.

SG: When you’re not in the ocean, what are you doing?
KW: When I’m not in the ocean, I’m often preparing food.  I love to cook and have a degree in culinary arts.  I grow a garden and am constantly preparing my harvest whether, vegetables or fish into a meal to share with others.

SG: When you close your eyes and think about your favorite time in the water, what do you see?
KW: So many favorite moments get blurred into one.  I basically just see a thriving beautiful ecosystem, I see baitfish and reef fish and all of the predators at the top of the food chain.  I can feel the thrill of seeing giant trevally, yellowfin tuna and all sorts of sharks and whales.

Kimi Werner // Photo by Ryan McInnis

Kimi Werner // Photo by Ryan McInnis

SG: What does a healthy ocean look like to you?
KW: A healthy ocean in my mind starts with a healthy reef.  It’s full of color and has a variety of healthy coral species and seaweeds.  It has a variety of fish from the baitfish to the big predators and it’s action packed.

SG: What’s your favorite seafood recipe?
KW: Ceviche is always delicious, healthy and refreshing.  I just cut fresh boneless, skinless fish meat into small cubes and season with sea salt.  I add cilantro and lime and orange juice, which cooks the fish with it’s citric acids.  I add chopped onion, chopped and seeded tomatoes and cucumbers and celery.  Add hot sauce if you want it spicy or add coconut milk to make it into the Tahitian dish, poison cru.

SG: What do you never leave home without?
KW: I’m almost always carrying small soft yeti cooler with me.  It really means a lot to me to be able to share my catch with those who will appreciate it and to keep it as fresh as possible, so I rarely leave home without a cooler.  I also try to always bring a reusable bottle for water, and a utensil kit in my purse to avoid single use plastics.

Kimi Werner // Photo by Perrin James

Kimi Werner // Photo by Perrin James

SG: What fish do you get most excited about catching?
KW: It really depends on what I want to eat.  I love hunting dogtooth tuna and yellowfin tuna but when it comes to reef fish, I get excited about mu and uku (jobfish).  But really, for me hunting is about eating.  So if I’m craving small fry fish, I get really excited to swim out and poke a few for dinner.  Harvesting from the source gets me excited, period.

SG: What does being a Salty Girl mean to you?
KW: It means that salt feels good on our skins, even when we’re crackled and weathered and in need of a good shower.  It feels good because while we were getting salty, we washed away the facades that can lead us astray.  We know who we are and what makes us happy and we chose to honor that every time we get in the ocean.

Is there a Salty Girl in your life? Email us to share her story with us and nominate her as a monthly Salty Girl!

Salty Girl of the Month: Heather Sears, Princess Seafoods

Since we launched Salty Girl Seafood, one of the first things that people say is how much they love the name. Often we are asked, what does it mean to be a Salty Girl?  

salty: of the sea, sailing or life at sea.

This is a series of blogs honoring our kindred Salty Girls--women whose lives and livelihoods revolve around all things ocean.

Imagine a spending the day on a gray, glassy ocean, seabirds careening overhead, working alongside some of your best girl friends to land beautiful fish after beautiful fish. For this month’s Salty Girl, Heather Sears, this scene is all in a day’s work. Of course, for every scene like this there’s a few more that are plagued with heavy seas and snotty weather, busted gear, and no fish in sight. But at the end of the day, it’s the rawness and unpredictability that keeps her fishing seven months of every year.

Heather Sears, F/V Princess

Heather Sears, F/V Princess

Heather runs her boat, the F/V Princess, with an all female crew out of Fort Bragg, CA.  We first learned of Heather from our friend, fishing legend Jeremiah O’Brien, captain of the F/V Aguero, the boat where Heather first began her life as a fisherman when she was just 10 years old fishing alongside her dad. Heather epitomizes all of the things we love about those who make their living on the ocean--strong, independent, hard-working--and couples these traits with the business and tech savvy to market herself and her fish in a way that connects everyone more closely to the ocean.

An all women seafood company and and all women fishing vessel seemed too good to be true. We’re beyond excited to announce that we are buying wild Alaska coho salmon from Heather and her crew. Look for the story of the F/V Princess on our Coho Salmon with Lemon Pepper & Garlic, and in our newest product, Wild Alaska Salmon Bites for Kids. Here’s to Salty Girls all over the world working together advance the health of our oceans! Check out our interview with Heather (HS), below.

SG: What do you love most about the ocean?
HS: I have a real love/hate relationship with the ocean. The ambivalence comes from too many days at sea, year after year in a boat just a little too small for the fisheries imposed on her.  It's almost like being in an abusive relationship with an utterly entrancing but volatile partner.  One trip will be just hellish. Being thrown around for days, not catching, equipment breaking, tired, bruised and scared.  And the next trip could be the exact opposite. Sparkly calm seas, hungry fish, breathtaking displays of beauty, nearly surreal in intensity. There is always the nagging feeling of complete dependence on your machinery for your very life. Without it you are dead in very short order. I keep coming back though. The ocean affords me a rare and precious lifestyle. One which I get to be part of the food chain, a top predator chasing a challenging prey, working by the seasons not by the calendar, not by the time card but the wind. Chasing a prey, the king of salmon, that I have the deepest respect and admiration for. A wonder that hasn't waned since I watched my dad pull the first one over the rail when I was ten. Could there be a thing more beautiful than a gleaming silver purple salmon. I might love them the most.

SG: Who first got you hooked on the sea?
HS: I started commercial fishing at ten years old with my father on our family's 48 foot Aguero out of Morro Bay. That first summer, fishing off Bodega Bay I saw a leatherback turtle surface that was as big as the stern. I saw the full moon above the Golden Gate Bridge throw a shadow on us as we passed under. At night I laid awake in my rolling bunk, a stones throw from the south Farallon island and listened to a million shrimp clicking below me, a million sea birds screaming above. I worked side by side with my dad during a hot king salmon bite in pea soup fog and dad told me my work was important, I was feeding people. I was hooked.

SG: When you’re not on the ocean, what are you doing?
HS: As my friends Joel and Tele put it with their boat, I am repaying the Princess for her service.  It seems like the hours of maintenance are endless. But shoreside efforts lead to better a night’s sleep when you’re drifting around offshore.    

Photo credit: allandoryanphotography

SG: When you close your eyes and think about your favorite time on the water, what do you see?
HS: Anytime the magical trio occurs: flat ocean, no boats, a fish on every hook. It doesn't get much better.

SG: What do you never leave home without?
HS: My salty fish dogs Julie and Chloe. They are schipperkes, bred for boats, and have fished full time for the last 7 years. They are tough, surefooted and sassy little hounds that make me laugh everyday.

SG: What does a healthy ocean look like to you?
HS: A healthy ocean looks different in different places and at different times of year. But it always looks like a myriad of beautiful and terrifying creatures eating each other and being eaten.   

SG: What do you think people can do to most benefit the ocean and its ecosystems?
HS: Some "easy" things I suggest to people include:

  • Support US fisheries. Ask for wild domestic caught seafood at the fish counter and in restaurants. We (US commercial fishermen) don't get nearly enough credit in the media for our science-based and very conservative fisheries management. Though flawed, our system is still one of the best in the entire world. Still, 90 percent of our seafood is imported, and most of that fish is farmed or caught in the wild in countries with much less regulation than us. That's why it's so cheap. The oceans are paying the price.
  • Cut down on disposable plastic use.

  • Vote for politicians who support dam removal and fresh water policies that consider our struggling salmon populations.  Californians can check out groups like Restore the Delta, Golden Gate Salmon Association and IFR.