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Sockeye Suzy talks Fishing, COVID and the Future

Avid fisherwoman and fish buyer, Suzy Lumley (a.k.a. Sockeye Suzy), stands a mighty four feet 10 inches, and was the first woman wrestler in the United States.  The Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) is also proud she is a member of the IAC American Indian Foods (AIF) program.

Mike Shellenberger – IAC Technical Assistance Specialist for the Northwest Region, said when he met Suzy, “She made a pretty big impression and her and I hit it off immediately.”

That’s when Shellenberger connected Lumley with the AIF program.  AIF began in 1998 under contract with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service.  The partnership was developed as a platform for AIF businesses to showcase their products and share Tribal cultures with the world. They offer the Made/Produced by American Indians trademark to successfully and clearly identify American Indian products from federally recognized tribes. 

Lumley has a long history with both IAC and the fishing industry and generously took some of her precious time to outline some of the compounding challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.  She also shared some of how she came to start, Sockeye Suzy’s Fish, “It started out when I was really young, before I even got into wrestling in high school.  My dad had a boat and he would send us out in the fall and summer season to fish with him.”

After the death of her husband, Lumley moved her children to Olympia, Wash. where she made a living working in offices, an environment far from the waters she loved, but necessary to take care of her family.  Still, logging and fishing were forever her true passions, and she ended up back on the Yakama Nation.  She invested in a boat and has grown to three boats with 30 to 40 nets and three or four crew members on each. 

But COVID has taken its toll.  When the pandemic first started, “It was really hard because at the time we were not fishing.”

Some of the important leaders of Native to Native fish sales also died from COVID and others as well, “I take care of an elderly gentleman from another tribe that is 85 years old and he has a heart transplant, so I can’t take any chances.”

“Every month I get tested, to make sure I don’t have the COVID,” she went on to explain, encouraging the washing of hands, wearing gloves and masks.

Regardless of the challenges, this tiny, but mighty fighter is not even considering giving up.  There are still fish to catch and, she said, conservation is everything, “It’s like I tell people, if I see someone doing something illegal, I will turn you in because my grandkids’ future depends on those fish being there.”

You're hanging on the line for more fish stories, we know it. You're in luck because Matt Denetclaw had a nice long chat with Suzy and Mike. You can listen to the full story on our Resiliency through Agriculture podcast. Click here:

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