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Sailing for Salmon

August 10th, 2013 | Christina Whiting Print this article   Email this article  

A well-known member of Bristol Bay's commercial driftnet fleet is looking for a captain and crew to fish for salmon next year. Energy, enthusiasm and knowing how to fish are requirements, as is knowing how to sail, since you'll be fishing from a sailboat.

Matt Marinkovich is a commercial fisherman who has fished out of Bristol Bay for the past 30 years. A year-round fisherman in both Washington and Alaska, Marinkovich dreams of finding skilled and excited crew members to fish out of Dillingham or Naknek aboard a restored and converted double-ender sailboat.

While repairing his wooden boat at an abandoned cannery near Naknek in 2007, Marinkovich spotted an old sailboat being restored in a nearby warehouse. Talking to the men restoring the boat, he had the thought that if you're going to have a boat, you shouldn't just restore it and have it sitting somewhere. You should use it for what it was intended for.

"If you're going to go to all the expense and energy to fix this thing up, why not go fishing?" he thought.

And the seed of an idea was planted.

"I want to use sailboats to catch fish in Bristol Bay. And to not just fish, but to compete with the rest of the fleet."

Only sail-powered boats were allowed in Bristol Bay until the early 1950's. When the use of power was allowed, traditional sailboats were outfitted with a mass produced power unit, a cut out of a steel bottom part of the hull that had an engine in it and a propeller, a house was built and a steering wheel added, and a powerboat was created from a sailboat. These boats were used until powerboats replaced the fleet of powered sailboats.

"I want to have two sailboats," said Marinkovich.

"One boat would be the fishing vessel and the other would be the support boat, moored close by and would provide the crew a place to warm up, eat and sleep. There would be no shelter on the fishing boat, as they couldn't be accommodated with the sail."

"Each boat would have to have an engine because I want us to get where we're heading by sail, drift by sail and fish by sail, but maneuver by engine so that we're not a nuisance to the powered fleet. I don't want to be so nostalgic that we have to be rescued."

And the crew?

"I'm looking for one guy who knows how to fish and three guys who know how to sail, pick fish and gillnet, rotating the crew between the fishing boat and the support boat."

Depending on the desires of the crew, he'd like to fish out of Dillingham or Naknek.

"The best chance that a sailboat has in order to have a competitive season in Bristol Bay is to fish out of the Dillingham area where it isn't so highly competitive. The weather and sandbars would have to be dealt with, but it would offer the most level playing field where we wouldn't be competing against an entire fleet, but just trying to fish."

Since the idea first came to him in 2007, Marinkovich eagerly shares it with anyone who will listen, never knowing who'll be intrigued and respond.

A man in the San Juan Islands near Marinkovich's home offered the use of his boat, a boat that had been under cover in the man's back yard since 1995.

"It's a beautiful boat and is in great condition," said Marinkovich. "It's already been converted and has a sail and a motor, and is completely seaworthy. The only problem is, it's in the San Juans and not in Alaska."

"I have what I think is a really great idea, but I just don't have the time to execute it. So, I'll just keep talking about it. "

Still, this is potentially boat number one.

This past year, during a board meeting of the BBRSDA (Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association) on which Marinkovich sits, he overheard a story of two Homer men planning to sail from Homer to Bristol Bay.

"I got their names and called them up and said hey, I hear you're going to sail to Bristol Bay next year for nostalgic reasons. As soon as I found out that their boat was a restored double ender that had been converted with power, I said, well, if you're coming this far with that boat of yours, hey, let's go fishing. And they got excited and said okay."

Boat number two.

"With these 2 boats landing in my lap, so to speak, I've started to give more thought to logistics and how this could all work."

"Right now, I need guys with energy and enthusiasm to make this happen. It's my idea, but I just don't have the time right now. I have a family and I fish full time."

Fishing year round out of both Washington and Alaska, Marinkovich and his wife Maureen are raising their three girls: Madeline 17, Sophie 16 and Lucy 8.

Still, he's not giving up on his idea and has in fact kept laying the groundwork for its success.

In 2007, after a little girl at his daughter's school showed him her mouth full of cavities, Marinkovich started the charity Fish for Teeth, with a mission to provide dental care, prevention and education to people living in San Juan County, Washington and Bristol Bay, Alaska, who could not afford it.

After years of slow progress toward their mission, Fish for Teeth's Board of Directors, comprised of local fishermen and dentists, discovered the Medical Teams International Mobile Dental Van?

"The combination of commercial fishermen working with dentists blows right through the red tape and gets us working on teeth right away," said Marinkovich?"If there's somebody that needs dental care, and doesn't have the money to fix it, that is who we want to help.?

In 2012, Fish for Teeth provided 150 individuals with $75,000 worth of dental care on a budget of $12,000, a budget created from the proceeds of both the sale of confiscated by-catch fish and profits from fishing.

From harvesting from sustainable resources with zero to low impact on the environment, to bringing seafood to people who would otherwise have none, to stimulating local economies, Fish for Teeth brings attention to the many benefits of commercial fishing.

"I love the idea of marketing sail-caught, zero carbon footprint fish, " said Marinkovich.

With energy, enthusiasm and a sense of humor, Morinkovich moves forward with his dream of sailing for salmon.

"If you want to help people in the Bristol Bay area have proper dental care, getting behind this project is a great way to do that."

"If you're into fishing old-school style against a highly competitive fleet, sign up now and don't look back. That's what we've got for sale today."

To learn more about Matt Morinkovich and his sailing for salmon project, or for more information, to volunteer or to donate to Fish for Teeth, visit


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