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!