Think of things you might buy at a garage sale.
Did you think of wild salmon? If not, you haven’t met Baxter Cox.
When he’s not working at Arizona Snowbowl, Cox has an unusual side hustle selling wild-caught Alaskan sockeye out of a freezer in his garage. At a going rate of $ 15 a pound, the flash-frozen, vacuum-packed fillets come straight from Bristol Bay, where the Cox family has run a small commercial fishing operation for decades.
Cox grew up spending summers on the 32-foot family fishing boat as they pulled in a modest haul of 200,000 pounds of salmon each year.
To this day Cox’s family sells most of their catch to the Trident cannery at a rate of about $ 1.50 a pound. But in recent years, the Cox family has decided to hang onto a percentage of their catch and sell it directly. The Cox children – Baxter and sister Casey – have started transporting salmon to their towns of residence, where they become sockeye salespeople.
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Last year, Cox transported and sold about 100 pounds of salmon to Flagstaff customers contacted through social media and word of mouth. This year, he’s taken on a bit more. He started with a freezer stocked with 500 pounds of salmon, and he’s sold about half so far.
“It’s really starting to pay off,” Cox said. “And I enjoy it a lot.”
Getting the salmon from Alaska to Arizona is the hardest part of his business, Cox said, but through family connections, they’ve made a suitable trade route possible.
Off the boat, the salmon is filleted, vacuum-packed and frozen by a family friend. From there, it hitches a ride, still frozen, on a barge to Seattle. Then it’s loaded into generator-run box freezers on the back of pickup trucks and driven to a walk-in freezer on a family property in Oregon, which serves as the final staging area. From Oregon, the salmon makes a straight shot – still frozen – to its final marketplaces. In Cox’s case, that means a 21-hour drive to Arizona.
This might seem like a lengthy overland journey for fish of any type, but Cox is confident in the process. When handled this way, he says the salmon will keep for years if necessary.
“My family and I have eaten fillets from two or three years back,” he said. “If you keep it frozen, it’s going to be just fine.”
Cox’s business may not have the most sustainable transportation system at present, but he is proud of the sustainable practices that go into fishing his family corner of Alaska. Bristol Bay has been home to 31 Indigenous tribes for thousands of years, including representatives of the Yup’ik culture, of which Cox’s sister is a part.
The tradition of stewardship set the stage for Bristol Bay to become on the most tightly regulated fisheries on the planet. The Marine Stewardship Council has deemed the commercial Bristol Bay fishery, and the $ 2.2 billion dollar industry it supports, as “certified sustainable.” Permits to commercially fish the bay are limited, “hard to get, and pretty expensive,” Cox said.
The State of Alaska also posts biologists at each of the six major rivers that feed into Bristol Bay to closely monitor the salmon runs during the fishing season.
“If they never are on track to get optimum fish upstream to sustain the run, they shut down fishing,” Cox said.
Even though such a shutdown would have a direct impact on Cox’s family livelihood, he welcomes the regulations put in place on Bristol Bay.
Orders to stop fishing are “totally fine with us, because that means there’s going to be a healthier run soon to come in the later years,” he said.
That greedless patience is represented in Cox’s personal ambitions as well. He has no aim to see his business grow to wholesale proportions. He doesn’t even seem to be interested in moving it out of the garage. He’d be happy to start selling at farmer’s markets, or have a few restaurant customers, but other than that, he’s happy to maintain a cottage industry that allows him to hand-deliver and interact with buyers directly, even if that means continuing to promote himself on Facebook garage sale groups.
“It was a weird platform for buying fish,” said customer Megan Schott. “But it feels better to buy from locals rather than big stores. I liked the idea that it was sustainably sourced. Also that I was getting the fish from the person who caught it. ”
“Simple, personal ads always attract me,” Heather Bostian said. “[Cox] was very sweet to deliver it for free to Doney Park. ”
Cox’s personal touch has been a boon. People like to hear his story, he said, and he likes to tell it. All the way out here in Arizona, he’s even made so connections back to his home state.
“I’ve met a lot of people from Alaska,” he said. “So I just talk to them about Alaska. And then it just keeps them coming back. ”
Cox’s business can be contacted at eskimogirlsalmon.com.
Sean Golightly can be reached at [email protected]