Fresh catch: Alaskan fisherman brings wares to Habersham market

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comDecember 14, 2011 

Steve Sturman and his wife, Tesa, refugees from the long Alaskan winter, are selling their wild caught Alaskan salmon at the Habersham Farmers Market.

JAY KARR/THE ISLAND PACKET

  • Nine farmers markets populate the area in season. Most close during the winter, but some are open year-round.

    - Port Royal Farmer's Market: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through December (closed Dec. 24 and 31); 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays through March.

    - Habersham Farmers Market: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays year-round

    - Pick Pocket Plantation Farmers Market: 1:30 to 5 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 31; noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays year round.

    - Farmers Market of Bluffton: 2 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Dec. 22.

Think things slow to a creep during a Lowcountry winter? Try an Alaskan winter.

Weeks go by where the temperature doesn't get above the freezing point. Just leaving the house is an adventure. Fisherman Steve Sturman didn't feel like braving another Alaskan winter this year.

"You'll go stir crazy up there," he said.

Last week, he was selling his salmon fished from Cook Inlet near where he lives on the Kenai Peninsula at the Habersham Farmers Market.

Sturman and his family are spending the next few months living in the Lowcountry, setting up shop Fridays at the market near Beaufort.

Farmers markets have been sprouting up quickly in recent years locally, but some close for the winter. While searching out places to sell over the winter, Sturman came across the year-round market in the Habersham community. The market focuses on fresh goods from local farmers, but it made an exception for Sturman because he's selling his own product, said market manager Patrick Kelly.

Sturman has been around fishing his entire life. His father came north from Oklahoma in the mid-'60s, hoping to tap into some of the riches of a burgeoning oil industry. Instead, he found a living out on the seas catching halibut and salmon.

"I never had a to flip a burger," Sturman said. "I always had a job, like it or not."

In fact, Sturman begged to be out on the boat. His mother protested, but dad let him tag along.

"I probably just got in the way, but at least I felt important," he said.

He went to college to become a teacher, but shortly after getting married in 2003, he decided he wanted to give professional fishing a try. After all, even when he did have another job, he was always helping out in one way or another. But life as a professional fisherman wasn't easy. He struggled for a bit, learned some hard lessons and took a job at UPS to support his family. After two years he had enough of the shipping industry. He returned to the seas in 2005, and business has been steady.

The fishing season in Alaska is from Memorial Day until early September. It's just him and a small team of about nine employees in Cook Inlet. They can drag in 30,000 pounds of fish on a good day.

His wife was familiar with Hilton Head Island from a vacation 10 years ago. The balmy winter sounded better than frigid cold. Sixty-five degrees and sunny is beach weather by his kids' standards.

Sturman shipped a few hundred pounds at first and is trucking in about 1,000 pounds this week. He mainly sells his fish online at Fred's Alaska Seafood, so he hopes to make inroads at farmers markets and restaurants.

Like the farmers he sets up beside, he's hoping to meet customers face to face, and a winter market is the perfect place to do it.

"I feel like people want to connect with their food," he said. "They want to know where it comes from, who grows it or catches it. This gives me a great opportunity to do that."

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