Food fights

The end of the greatest American fishery?

Threatened by mines, Bristol Bay, Alaska, is a place of beauty and heart, dependent on salmon. Plus: A slide show

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    Nick Hall

    David McRae has fished for sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay for 30 years, just like his grandparents. Once retired but now mentoring his nephew, he says, “I don’t want to make it too flowery, but there’s a feeling of wanting to pass on the ways.”

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    Nick Hall

    The sky over Bristol Bay is enormous, utterly expansive with a hard, steely color. It makes us in the boat feel even closer together than we are.

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    Nick Hall

    Picking salmon out of the net is “like trying to figure out puzzles in a washing machine,” fisherman Dave McRae says. While playing a 12-hour game of tug of war, my back reminded me.

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    Quentin Topping

    The sky turned cartoon blue. The sun felt intimate in this quiet — low and close — throwing warm color in all directions.

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    Nick Hall

    Maybe 5 feet tall if you give her a shoebox to stand on, Violet Wilson looks like the kind of woman you want to hug immediately.

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    Quentin Topping

    Salmon strips readied for smoking.

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    Quentin Topping

    Salmon strips in the smoker.

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    Quentin Topping

    Sockeye salmon, an hour out of the water, 20 minutes from being lunch.

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    Quentin Topping

    Sockeye salmon fillets. They call it “red salmon” for a reason. I was stunned by the flavor — briny, grassy, minerally, like the ocean, as people say of oysters.

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    Quentin Topping

    At Leader Creek Fisheries’ processing plant, standing at the conveyor where the salmon come out was like a “Daily Show” “Moment of Zen,” watching fish fall through the air into a pool of cold water frothy with other fish.

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    Quentin Topping

    The thousands of workers who come here for salmon season — American college kids, migrant workers from Ecuador, Russia, the Philippines — swell these villages to 20 times their off-season size.

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    Quentin Topping

    A brown bear, a few dozen feet away. Thin from hibernation but still tremendous, they took long, looping strides, as if their paws were great weights. They, like us, were looking for salmon.