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Ammi Midstokke: The story of a boy, a boat, and love at first bite

Kara Berlin was living the aspirational life of any young urbanite. She was raised in Washington by parents who took her outside to play. She went to college. She moved to Idaho to work a corporate job where terms like “fast track” and “executive management potential” littered her quarterly reviews.

But then the economy happened and her employer closed up shop. In Sandpoint, she met Taran White.

White had a lot of free time because it wasn’t salmon season. Berlin had a lot of free time because she was unemployed. So they took off to Asia to drink cheap cocktails, get $5 massages and fall in love. They wrote a business plan along the way, too.

White was raised on a fishing boat in Alaska by parents who will one day likely be the subject of an indie film on the joy of unconventional living. There were teepees, toddlers hauling nets and many, many salmon. He went to college, saw the big city, did the corporate things, then bought himself a boat and went back to Bristol Bay.

He named his boat Thunder.

Berlin is trotting up a packed dirt trail through the cedars. She’s not out of breath as she tells me about hauling in salmon with her bare hands, pulling them out of the water and tossing them into a rubber raft with her until her load is full and she hauls herself back to shore. I think the excitement is making her run faster.

How does the company darling scrap what seems like a guaranteed success with retirement plans and a few weeks of paid vacation to traipse the planet with a fisherman? The social backlash, the concerned tone of parents, the eye rolls of those who don’t know that a Vietnamese hotel is about $5 a night make the choice seem almost reckless.

“Spending two months outside every summer is a salary in itself,” Berlin said. Maybe it’s not so reckless after all.

She quotes Alfred Wainwright in perfect form, as if she’s just stepped off Captain Ahab’s craft, and like she maybe aced drama class in high school: There’s no such thing as bad weather. Only unsuitable clothing.

“I feel invincible in my Grundens,” she said. “I’m leaning out of my raft, covered in slime and scales, and hoisting salmon from the water. I feel strong, beautiful.”

There’s no electricity in the beach cabin where she spends several weeks set-net fishing along the shores, but it feels luxurious because the pots and pans don’t get rearranged onto the floor with every swell of the sea. On Thunder, where she’ll fish the last few weeks of the season with White, there’s more wind but less luxury.

It wasn’t just about spending time outside. The choice to launch a CSF (Community Supported Fishery) was about creating a source of income that served the planet, the community and the couple. More than having a love of the great outdoors in common, White and Berlin shared the intention to have a positive impact on the world in which they lived and those with whom they shared it.

There are no apologies for the reality that they pay their bills with their business. After all, we all need to eat. (I asked: Berlin eats salmon almost daily. Also noted: Her hair and skin are amazing.) Perhaps that’s the point. It is possible to make a career out of your passion, to have it fulfill your wildest dreams, and to not harm the planet or people in the process.

Thunder’s Catch, as White and Berlin named their company in 2015, is an inspiring example of just that. From radiation testing their salmon to environmental stewardship and picketing against the threats of a proposed pebble mine in Bristol Bay, they’ve found a way to not only live their dream, but share it.

“Deck to dish!” Berlin exclaims as she launches over a slab of granite.

In June, she’ll be heading back to Alaska to set nets and haul 1,200 pounds of fish by hand back to shore for processing. They apply all the usual rules of the industry, then go the extra nautical mile or two to ensure their products reach the consumer in the freshest state possible, preservative free and downright delicious.

“My dad essentially gave up on taking me fishing as a young girl because I went through that phase where I wouldn’t hook my own worm,” Berlin said.

Clearly, she got over it. Her business card reads “Owner & Fisherman.”

To learn more about Thunder’s Catch, find their retailers, or read about how to get involved in their environmental efforts, visit www.thunderscatch.com


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