Marie Rose is living many a nature lover’s dream — residing in remote Alaska, where she co-owns a fishing business with a focus on sustainability and quality.
Rose’s journey to the fishing industry was anything but predictable, but there was a certain logic to it, she said.
After graduating from Lakeview High School in her native Battle Creek, she attended Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. A longtime activist for progressive causes in her home state, it was a natural next step when, the summer before her senior year at MSU, Rose landed a three-month gig as canvass manager for the Alaska Center for the Environment’s Salmon Beyond Borders conservation campaign. While going door to door that summer — and continuing the work a year later after commencement, when she was promoted to deputy canvass director of southeast Alaska for the same nonprofit — Rose said she learned just how integral the salmon fishing industry is to the residents she met.
“So many people in Alaska had some type of connection to wild salmon. You could literally knock on door after door in any neighborhood, and everybody wanted to talk to you about it — whether they fish for fun, or whether their freezer was full of fish, or they were commercial fishermen, or their brother or sister was — everybody had some connection to it. I was really drawn to how much that meant to people to have a resource like that in their backyard,” she said.
During her work with Salmon Beyond Borders, Rose met lifelong fishermen Keith Heller and Capt. Joe Emerson while living in Juneau, Alaska. As her appreciation for quality salmon grew, she became determined to bring the best of Alaskan salmon back to Michigan. In 2016, she co-founded Shoreline Wild Salmon with Heller and Emerson, starting by primarily distributing salmon caught on Emerson’s boat, the F/V Tommy L II, and later adding on purchasing and selling the catch from several fishermen friends, a job Heller now handles as dock manager and fish buyer for the business.
“It was really inspired by the fact that I was taking these trips back to visit my family and my friends back in Michigan, and I started paying attention to what was available for them as far as wild salmon goes. I was really disappointed with the options that were available for them. I learned how important wild salmon is, in terms of the health benefits that it provides, and I really wanted them to be able to have access to that,” Rose said. “While having a salmon business and working in the fishing industry might not seem in line with social work, I found that it actually is still very relevant, in terms of trying to increase access to something that has a lot of health benefits that can be really good for people.”
Rose started her journey with Shoreline Wild Salmon during its first few years by learning all aspects of the business, from catching fish on Emerson’s boat, to loading the catch onto bush planes to be taken to grocery stores, to flying home to Michigan to sell the fish at farmers markets and in specialty stores.
Shoreline now sells king and coho salmon at about 60 grocery stores in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area, and with the launch of its online store in November, at shorelinewildsalmon.com, it is now expanding sales to West Michigan and across the U.S.
Heller and Emerson are based at and do all their fishing from a rural coastal outpost called Pelican in southeast Alaska, population 80-90 souls. Since there is no cellphone service or internet there, Rose lives about 100 miles north in Haines, population 2,000, where she manages the business’ sales, marketing and logistics full time.
Shoreline Wild Salmon is a troll fishery, where salmon are caught by hook and line, as opposed to a trawling fishery, where fish are gathered in nets in larger quantities.
“I really loved and was immediately drawn to the sustainability and quality aspect of (troll fishing),” Rose said. “Because you’re catching fish one by one, it allows you to handle them and take immense care of them and really provide the highest quality of salmon possible, but it also is the most sustainable way of commercial fishing. You’re not overfishing, you’re able to target what you’re fishing for so that you’re not bringing in other species that you’re not intending on catching, and it’s a very intentional fishery (that focuses on quality over quantity).”
With the trolling method, Shoreline fishermen pull in fish off the line, clean them immediately and pressure bleed them — a process that removes the blood, replaces it with seawater and helps the fish last longer, as fish blood is the first thing to go bad and is what causes the “fishy” smell — and finally pack the fish on ice and place them in the hold of the boat until unloading time.
Customers who order the fish online can either purchase frozen salmon fillets, which are vacuum-sealed in 1-pound portions and shipped on dry ice within about five days from purchase, or shelf-stable smoked salmon that are canned in glass jars and typically arrive within about a week.
The business primarily sells king and coho salmon because other species, such as sockeye salmon, don’t tend to bite hooks.
Although troll fishing is a less common and more selective method than high-volume fishing, Rose was quick to say the entire fishing industry in Alaska is known for its sustainability, as the state has enacted laws “to monitor the number of salmon that are caught every year to make sure that populations are sustainable and healthy.” Rose said these are fundamentally important policies, as Alaska has the largest number of wild salmon fisheries on the planet, and the state quite literally feeds the world.
As Shoreline has grown, Rose’s father, Mark Rose, who now lives in Saline with her mother, came on board as a contractor and is the one doing most of the deliveries in southeast Michigan year-round.
In addition to the tie-in to social justice that Shoreline has from a sustainability perspective, Rose said she is proud of the fact that Shoreline has been active with events in southeast Michigan, such as when it partnered with Zingerman’s Roadhouse in March 2020 to do a private Alaskan salmon dinner, with proceeds going to SafeHouse Center, a domestic and sexual violence resource center and shelter in Ann Arbor.
Rose said she would welcome the opportunity to do similar events in West Michigan or the other markets where Shoreline does business, after the pandemic subsides.
“We always love the opportunity to visit where our customers are and to be able to meet them in person and have events that allow them the opportunity to get to know who we are and more about our brand through us personally,” she said.
Rose said it’s been fun to have a foot in two worlds — Alaska and Michigan — and she finds that Michiganders tend to find a lot of common ground with Alaskans: they are used to long, tough winters; nature is a big part of their lives; and the water calls to them.
“Alaska is like a tenfold version of northern Michigan,” she said. “The mountains definitely are much bigger here, and the wildlife is much bigger, but people who have an appreciation for the outdoors, for nature, and are willing to brave those elements to live amongst it, I think Alaska definitely attracts those people.”
That’s partly why, in addition to maintaining Shoreline’s online shop and retail sales, Rose also writes a blog with recipes and tidbits about Alaska. She said she likes to be able to share stories about life in the wild these past five-plus years.
“It’s a lot of fun (in Haines); it’s really quiet, it’s really peaceful and (it’s) challenging in ways that I had never experienced before, living in Michigan, where you can drive to the grocery store and drive to a restaurant and you have so many things within reach. Here, you have to be a little bit more patient.”
Rose said she invites anyone interested to sign up for Shoreline’s e-newsletter for updates and more information about their business model.
“I know a lot of people are looking for reliable, transparent, traceable, high-quality sources for Alaskan salmon, and we’re really excited to finally be able to (provide) that for people. A lot of people have inquired over the years, and we’re excited to finally have the opportunity to reach customers and people who we haven’t been able to help in the past,” she said.
More information about the company is at shorelinewildsalmon.com.