Once upon a time, people knew where their food came from. They dug in the earth with hand or plow to plant a seed or nurtured a calf from birth to slaughter. If they didn’t produce it themselves, their neighbors or friends did. But as the world has become increasingly globalized, that personal connection with our food has slowly slipped away.
It’s a problem that Desire Fish Company is trying to fix.
Operated by husband and wife team Bob Gudmundson and Melinda Sweet, the 37-foot fishing boat Desire makes the trip to
Alaska waters every year during the summer months to harvest and process salmon that they then sell in Whatcom County from November to April. “We’re committed to this area,” Sweet said. “We’ve decided that these are our people.”
Gudmundson’s connection to fishing in Whatcom County is in his roots. His grandparents Thor and Klara came to Point Roberts from Iceland in the 1930s and raised their family there, earning their living as commercial fishermen. Gudmundson grew up spending his summers in Point Roberts rowing out to the fishing boats to help his father and uncles.
Now in their ninth season, this relationship between the producer and consumer is key for Sweet. “Re-establishing that connection is a beautiful thing,” she said. “It makes the food supply of Whatcom County safer when the food that is produced is committed to being sold in the area. The strength of our community is in the food supply.”
Harvesting chum, coho, sockeye and king salmon, the Desire Fish Company team processes every fish by hand. “Our process really honors the fish,” Sweet said. “We aim for the highest quality possible and we process our fish as soon as we harvest it to make it as perfect a product as we can.”
Sweet said on-board processing is what differentiates the fish that her company sells versus other commercial operations.
“Fish is very delicate and vulnerable,” she said. “We clean our fish on ship and fillet and vacuum pack everything in our plant. Everything is done by us, instead of changing hands multiple times from ship to cannery. The way we harvest it brings the quality way up.”
She explained that due to an overabundance of chum salmon, they keep it whole and only head and gut it to preserve the integrity of the fish. They then offer their customers a most unusual deal: a pay-as-you-can price.
“We found people don’t want free food,” she said. “We’ve had customers argue us up on the price, because they don’t want us to go out of business. So we let them pay as they can. We just want to get quality fish into people’s hands.”
“This fish is whole and it’s not small,” Sweet continued. “We’re letting people have a great deal by naming their price and getting super high quality fish in the bargain. Bob and I could just sell to brokers, but we want to infuse our work with meaning. Every fish is cared for by my husband and our crew.”
Desire Fish sells their catch from their boat docked in Bellingham’s Squalicum Harbor on Coho Way on Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., November through April, or until their supply runs out.
It may also be purchased at Haggen Northwest Fresh and the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham.