Being a small community, it may seem like everyone knows everyone in White Salmon, but that’s not always the case.
Rebbecah Winnier has lived and worked in White Salmon her whole life, her family has been here for generations as part of the Yakama Nation. But it’s only in the last few years that people have begun to get to know her, her family, and her business.
Winnier and her family are fishermen, they catch and sell fish from the Columbia River to local businesses and the public through their business Northwest Fish Hogs. You may have seen Winnier, and her husband Paul, this summer at the White Salmon Farmers Market.
“The farmers’ market is new territory for us. We usually sell directly to restaurants or are at the market down by Bridge of Gods,” said Winnier.
“We are hoping to open a fish house, basically like a restaurant or deli style place to sell fresh caught fish,” added Winnier.
The path to becoming a career fisher was sort of circuitous for Winnier, “My dad is a fisherman; my grandfather was a fisherman and so was his father. I would go fishing with my dad when I was a kid but never thought about it as a career. Partly because my dad wanted his kids to go to college and be able to do other things with their lives besides fishing. And, partly because fishing is seen as a male-only profession. There are not many Native women that fish and there is a lot of resistance to it,” said Winnier.
Being a woman would not be the only resistance Winnier would encounter while starting out her fishing career.
“I went to college and studied accounting, while working for Sprint and going to school I met my husband Paul, and we started fishing together, just as a mutual activity that we both enjoyed. I would help crew for my dad sometimes and Paul would come along. But because he’s not a native there were certain things he wasn’t allowed to do or places he could be, “said Winnier.
Another form of resistance came from her own family. Winnier and her husband had learned new techniques that increased the quality of the fish, but the techniques broke with tradition and caused a rift in Winniers family, to a point where she temporarily cut ties with her father and had to find new places to fish.
“We bleed our fish, which impacts they way they taste, makes it better,” said Winnier.
“Blood contains various enzymes which degrade flesh after death and nutrients which allow bacteria to flourish within the blood vessels. Bleeding fish therefore reduces the initial rate of bacterial spoilage, improving fillet quality. However, bleeding out by itself is not considered to be a humane method of killing. Because of this, fish should only be bled after they have been stunned or killed using another method such as brain spiking or percussive stunning. In general, the faster the fish can be killed, bled and its flesh iced down before the onset of rigor mortis, the better its quality and the longer its shelf life,” according to FishingWorld.com
“I got yelled at the first time I bled a fish while working with my dad. He threw it back in the river. It wasn’t the way things were done,” said Winnier.
Following that incident, Winnier and her husband started converting their own boat to a bow picker, and thus began Northwest Fish Hogs.
Bow pickers are fishing boats that were developed right here in the Gorge after World War I.
“The new boats had a flared bow, a square stern, and a cabin in the stern. Fishers piled their nets in the bow and laid them out along the side of the cabin and over the stern. The fishers stood in the bow to pick the net before removing the fish, putting them in the locker, and piling the net in the bow, “according to The Oregon Encyclopedia.
“Our goal now is to just let people know we are here and that they have another way to support a local family,” said Winnier.