Fresh Catch

Fisherman Brings Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon to Kansas City

Growing up outside of Portland, Oregon, Brian O’Neil spent his summers on the sea, fishing for salmon in the waters of the Pacific Northwest with his father and grandfather. Brian came to attend college in Warrensburg, met his wife, Lisa, and eventually settled down in rural Missouri, but salmon fishing remains a way of life for the O’Neil family.

The O’Neil’s have called Missouri home since 2000, but they spend summers continuing Brian’s family legacy of salmon fishing. Joined now by his father, Lisa and their four children, O’Neil spends mid-June through mid-August on a 40-foot ‘stern picker’ commercial salmon fishing boat, intercepting the fish returning to Alaska’s Cook Inlet during spawning season.

“Family is important to me and I take a lot of pride in doing what my grandfather loved to do,” O’ Neil says. “Fishing has always been a part of my life.”

From the outside, the O’ Neil’s rural home north of Independence belies their connection to the sea. But inside, their garage holds three deep freezers brimming with Wild Alaskan salmon. Enter Brian’s shop, a high-ceilinged metal building and you’ll find he’s working on a little project during the off-fishing season – constructing the Independence, a towering 40-foot commercial salmon fishing boat. Come summer, O’Neil will transport his newly-completed boat on a flatbed trailer to Bellingham, Washington, a hub for commercial boat builders. After selling the boat to another fisherman, the O’ Neil’s will board their own vessel and begin their own fishing season.

Each year, O’Neil catches thousands of pounds of salmon and sells his harvest to an Alaskan processor for wholesale distribution to the lower 48 states and Canada. In 2016, he became licensed by the state of Alaska and launched Wild Alaska Fish Co., which allows him to bring the fish he catches directly to Kansas City consumers. At the end of his 2016 fishing season, O’Neil shipped 2,000 pounds of salmon to the Kansas City area. On August 20, he began selling his catch of Chinook, Sockeye, Coho and Keta salmon at the Lee’s Summit Farmer’s Market.

High-quality Alaskan salmon is sought-after for its protein content and nutrition profile. One 3.5-ounce fillet of wild-caught Sockeye salmon boasts 27 grams of protein.  In addition, its heart-healthy combination of omega three fatty acids, vitamins and minerals have been shown to help decrease cholesterol, reduce blood clotting factors, increase relaxation in larger arteries and blood vessels and decrease inflammatory processes in blood vessels.

And O’Neil suggests several factors make his wild-caught salmon even healthier than store-bought. He says one key to the quality is the transparency of his business model.

“It’s a unique product because I sell what I catch,” O Neil says. “A lot of times seafood is mismarked or mislabeled. With me, I have pictures of us harvesting the fish and have all the catch records. I have a paper trail and a picture trail.”

Another nutrient boost comes from the salmon’s freshness. Each day, his catch is carefully handled and taken to the processor, where the meat is prepared, vacuum-sealed and flash frozen to preserve quality.

“Up in Alaska, we bring a fish home right out of the ocean, grill it and enjoy it in community with our fellow fishermen,” O’ Neil says. “It’s the highest quality because it’s so fresh. You get a lot better product because it’s processed in Alaska almost immediately after we pull it out of the ocean. People appreciate that.”

O’Neil says he wanted to start small, bringing a small portion of his 32,000-pound harvest to market in Missouri in his first year in business. The Kansas City market has been receptive. In addition to selling at the Lee’s Summit market, Wild Alaska Fish Co. salmon is available at Terra Health & Wellness Market in Independence, Troque Farms Store and its Fresh Connect home delivery service and soon through Wells Family Farm at City Market.