Woman and child setnetting for salmon in Bristol Bay, ca. 1930s. Heinbockel-Payne Family Collection.
“My mom did it. I did it. My kids did it. We had our kids out in the set net cabins when they were a year and a half old. The youngest was probably six months—pretty much one generation to the next. It’s a way of life.”
— Pamela Meyers Mack, South Naknek
While men from the village were drift fishermen working from drifting boats, women participated in the salmon fishery as setnetters, placing their nets along the beach.
Bristol Bay residents were some of the first commercial setnetters to anchor a gillnet to the beach to take advantage of Bristol Bay’s high tides. The first setnetters consisted of women and older men. Children picked fish from the nets with their mothers, aunts, and grandmas.
Spaced 300 feet apart and situated on the beach, the sites formed a small community. Alaska Packers sent a truck to pick up the fish from the beach at low tide and delivered the daily catch to the canneries.
The first women setnetters in South Naknek were Funa Tretikoff, Nina Harris, Palogia Melgonak, Lesha Savo, and Mary Zimin. By the 1940s, the fishing method had become an alternative to gillnet boats. Today, the descendants of the first setnetters, many of whom are women, continue to fish on the beach and work the Bristol Bay tides.