Bob Gudmundson and Melinda Sweet began harvesting wild Alaskan salmon on their fishing boat the Mickey B in 1985. In 1990, Bob built the Desire, which he named for his love of the fishing life. For him it meant migrating north to Alaska every summer with his wife and children to work together as a family, to live out of tiny harbors and towns, to drink in the beauty of the natural world, ever changing, ever perfect. The font on the bow of the boat is the same as the Bob Dylan album Desire cover, his favorite songwriter/musician.
For Melinda it was important to keep the family together and foster the experiences of work and adventure through living on the water. She had fished prior to her marriage and saw this lifestyle as an opportunity to have a summer of adventure, rousting herself out of her winter life on land. She appreciated the opportunity to remove her children from the influences of modern life, the tv, radio, newspapers, wanting to show them life is created by ones own experiences and interaction with each other and ones environment. She wished to find meaning in the simplicity of living in a small space, having limited but essential possessions, relying more closely on and appreciating the essentials: the 100 gallons of water Desire carries for a family of 5, the warmth of an oil cook stove, enough staples to make it through the week, only one another to interact with, engaging all family members in hard physical work and the feeling of safe harbor after stormy seas. Sleeping and eating and working and living on a 37 foot work boat where the entire back deck is workspace and the galley is kitchen/dining/living/vehicle combined and is smaller than most rooms in a house on land somehow has always intrigued Melinda, teaching her through experience that everything one needs is provided in the now.
After many years of raising their family summers in this manner Bob and Melinda began to yearn to share their fish with their community. Much of Alaska's Wild Salmon is exported and the traditional scenario is the catcher sells their fish to a processor where the fish is prepared for market, either fresh, frozen or canned. The fish may change hands 4 or more times before it reaches a dinner plate. The greater the distance between source and consumption the larger the possibility of loss of quality. As primary harvesters Bob and Melinda wished they could connect with the person who was to eat the fish they caught. They began having a small portion of their Fall harvested coho processed to sell to friends and felt the satisfaction of teaching others about wild salmon. Everything that happens to a salmon from its harvest to consumption is crucial in the retention of its quality and this entails the education and participation of the consumer and attention to detail by the processor.
The salmon industry has suffered these last years and it has become harder and harder to make a living as a harvester. Fishers actually received more in 1980 for their product than they do today and the cost of fuel and living has only gone up. It is expensive to process Wild Alaskan Salmon and transport this to markets outside of Alaska. Even several of the large corporations who purchase from the fishermen have gone bankrupt.
Despite these conditions, Bob and Melinda feel that being harvesters is the way for them to stabilize their livelihood while engaging in their true life's work--that of bringing the fish directly to those who will eat it and of teaching about:
- the ecology of the wild salmon,
- the benefits of eating this wild creature,
- the handling and preparation of wild Alaskan salmon,
- the value in knowing where your food comes from and knowing who caught and processed it,
- and the connection between the consumer and the creature which gives its life for them.