An Alaskan fish story, with a longline to Midland

A truckload of wild-caught, Alaskan fish arrived in Midland this Tuesday. In a way, this truck’s story began in Midland.


Caven Pfeiffer, Midland native and now Alaskan resident, reflects on how his community-supported fishery (CSF), Sword Seafood Company, started.


“It started with me and my mom commercial fishing together on an adventure together up in Alaska. I needed a deckhand and I didn’t have one, and I called my mom up. … She was in her mid-60s and she was up for it.”
Caven spent nearly 15 years learning how to fish on his vessel, The Sword.

That was over ten years ago. For the past four and a half years, Caven and his mother, LoLita Pfeiffer, who lives in Midland, have sold fresh, wild-caught Alaskan fish to Midland.


“Taking this connection back to my home Midland is really special. I’ve gotten to reconnect with a lot of people that I’ve lost track of,” says Caven, in Alaska, over the phone.


Because the community showed an interest in his fish, he was able to bring his high-quality fish to market at a lower price than a regular supermarket.


“It’s really a combined effort between the fishermen and the Midland community,” says Caven.

Caven grew up in Midland, achieving a degree in history and archaeology. He loved going up north on the weekends and so after graduating, he sought out the Great North — Alaska. The plentiful wild fisheries and wooden fishing vessels reminded him of Michigan.
LoLita recruits friends, families, and neighbors to help her manage the fish pickup. This time, Roger Moll and Jane Templeman lent a hand.

“When I first got up here, it was like going back in time. For me, I felt like I was looking at Michigan 100 years in the past,” says Caven.


Fishing is normally a tradition passed down in families, but Caven had to learn fishing on his own. He spent nearly 15 years learning how to fish as a full-time fisherman, encountering anything from 30-foot waves to collisions with whales.


Initially, he sold his fish to canneries; canneries, however, only pay about $2 per pound. Since Caven doesn’t fish with nets, it wasn’t a sustainable wage.


“The fish that we produce is different than any other fish that’s out there, and the reason being the vast majority of the fish caught in the ocean is caught with nets,” says Caven. “This fish is all caught by hook and line … When you’re dealing with hooks, you bring one hook on at a time, so you produce a lower volume of fish. We get a lot less fish than the net fishermen, but it means that our fish go right down into the ice, they get cleaned immediately and it’s the highest quality available.”
Moll carries an order to community members waiting in their vehicles.

After his mother LoLita did a few seasons on the boat with Caven, she wanted fish sent back home. Then her friends wanted some. And then those friends wanted some.


“All of a sudden, we’ve got this group of fish lovers that appreciate what an Alaskan fisherman can bring to market,” says Caven. “... Coming back to Midland with my fish is kind of like going full circle. In a way, I had to. Because I was starting a family, and I was doing this fishing — this hard, hard work. ... People have been very appreciative and they want to see it exist and grow, and all it is doing is growing. It’s amazing — Midland has been fantastic to us, to our family.”


You don’t need a subscription, a minimum purchase, or even to be a member of the Facebook Fish Club to order fish. Orders can be placed on the website. The most recent shipment touted coho salmon, halibut, lingcod, prawns, shrimp, and cherry-hickory smoked salmon.


Orders are delivered three times throughout the year to reduce the shipping footprint, taking a barge to Seattle and then a truck to Midland.
Caven Pfeiffer lives in Sitka, Alaska with his wife Camilla and three children, Ivy, Annalise and Elias.

“Sustainability is number one in our book. … We also want to keep our impact on the planet down,” says Caven. “Our oceans are only going to be as healthy as our air is.”


He has a few other CSFs across Michigan and Minnesota, but his biggest is in Midland. Because everything comes from his boat, it limits the size of his company — which is fine with him.


Would Caven move back to Midland with his wife and three children? He says, “I think about it all the time.”


“The best people in the world are in the Midwest,” says Caven. “I love the mountains and ocean in Alaska, but I’ll tell ya, you get back to Midland and Michigan and it’s just the people you want to spend your time with. The understated, great people that you wanna talk with, and will take time to talk with you. That’s Midland.”

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.