Pure Alaska Salmon Company!

Dec. 8, 2012


Bellingham, Washington.

Jim and Shirley Zuanich started Pure Alaska Salmon Company in 2004 because the confluence of many factors- international economic forces, overabundance of salmon, and lack of demand, had forced the price of salmon down to a mere $.08 per pound!  Jim and Shirley could not bear to see their beloved fishing industry in such dire straits.  The Zuanich family’s history with fishing dates back more than 400 years (quite possibly 1000!) to the island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea.  In 1900, Dinko was the first Zuanich fisherman to arrive in Bellingham, and the generations have been fishing the Washington and Alaska waters ever since. 

Shirley and Jim were well aware of the benefits of eating the cold water fatty fish, rich in long-chain omega 3’s.  They also knew that the demand for Salmon could greatly improve if people understood those benefits, AND had easy access no matter where they lived.  For years, they had sold their own canned salmon to friends and family, so they decided to pursue an untapped opportunity, broaden their market, and Pure Alaska Salmon Company was born.

Jim skippers his 56’ purse seine vessel, Marshall Tito, and fishes pristine Alaskan waters from June until September. The salmon is processed and canned at either Excursion Inlet in Southeast Alaska, or Naknek in Bristol Bay; both facilities are owned by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, and Pure Alaska Salmon Company markets the freshly canned product nation-wide.  Jim then spends another couple months on the Puget Sound, and that catch goes to fresh markets in their local area of Bellingham.

Jim has two college degrees, one from the University Of Washington in East European history and another in Economics from Western Washington University. Jim served a tour in the Fiji Islands with the Peace Corps teaching fishing methods to Pacific Islanders, although he wonders about the sensibility of a twenty-some year old teaching fishing to cultures with thousands of years  of history in the Pacific Ocean!

Shirley Zuanich’s family is not nearly so maritime, but she did skipper her own gillnet boat in the famed Copper River as a young woman. Her family roots of Colorado ranch-folk resonate in the fishing industry.  Shirley is passionate about the commercial fishing industry, and believes that for it to remain strong, viable and flexible, it must be made up of a lot small fishing companies like her own, and not gobbled up by one or two large corporations.  She and her husband do their part in this picture and it should also be said that Ocean Beauty Seafoods is doing a good part too.  Even though it is one of the largest fish processing companies in the Northwest, it is still willing to work with small owner-operator sized businesses to process their catch and give them a fair deal.  The Zuanichs are very appreciative of this.

Shirley and Jim have three kids.  Their sons, Nick and Andy, are pursuing fishing careers, and their daughter Katherine is putting herself through college by working fish and nets on the boats.  They are all very proud of their industry and of the Alaska Fisheries and its leadership which was the first to garner the coveted Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) ecolabel.  This award demonstrates the commitment of those in the Alaska salmon fishing industry to sustainable harvesting practices for the health of the salmon species, the environment and everyone involved.

Pure Alaska Salmon Company and Azure began their relationship in 2005.  Shirley had heard by word-of-mouth about the burgeoning company, Azure Standard, and she made contact.  As he often does, David Stelzer, now CEO, responded to her and Azure has been carrying Pure Alaska Salmon Company products since then.  Shirley said that, coincidentally, she knew two other families from Dufur (population 600!), so Azure felt like home from the start. 

See a collage of Pure Alaska's Pictures: