On a bluebird day in December, Stephanie Vaillancourt is heading out on the Bay with her friend James Sangris to set a gill net.
Vaillancourt is planning to expand her business, Fish on the Bay, to take fish and fish delicacies to a bigger Yellowknife market.
Coffee washed down, the two set out by snowmobile in the late morning to South Dog Island, where Vaillancourt set her last net.
Sangris, who has come into town from Dettah to fetch a snowmobile part is happy to be outside today, he says. He chips away at the first ice hole with an ice chisel while Vaillancourt prepares the jigger.
Sangris is nimble with a jigger board, sending it swiftly beneath the ice. Vaillancourt follows the jigger and works away at the second ice hole.
The two maneuver quickly in the brief morning sunlight.
In around ten minutes, the gill net is set and Vaillancourt will return the following day to pull it.
Sangris secures the chisel, its point facing away from the sled. Sudden stops can be injurious with a tool sharp enough to pierce a sled facing the wrong way, he said.
Vaillancourt places a small piece of plywood over the two open holes, lest an unsuspecting pedestrian happen upon the net.
Back at Jolliffe Island, Vaillancourt has parked her newest purchase and the future of her business: an insulated trailer with a refrigerator, filleting area and solar-sourced power.
After a decade in the city, Vaillancourt will take her fishing business mobile. She started out working with the Buckley family business and in the last two years, rented a boat from Shaun Buckley until she could buy her own.
This spring, she will make a go at expanding her enterprise beyond sales in Old Town, with a mind to keeping it local enough and small enough to manage Yellowknife’s labour challenges.
Vaillancourt sells whitefish, trout, ling cod, pickerel, Northern pike and inconnu.
She is working with a friend to draw up creative recipes to market all usable parts of the fish as a delicacy. Smoked fish, trout head, cod liver, fish roe and whitefish stomach are all on offer.
Her trailer should be ready for this spring, when Vaillancourt is aiming to produce 1,000 pounds a week.
“I’d like to move around while I filet fish. Doing it from the boat in Old Town is quite successful, but you only reach a certain population,” she said.
“I think people get a kick out of it. They see you filet the fish, then it’s in the bag and off you go,” she said.
“People are more and more conscious of where their food comes from, but you’re still getting a lot of fish from the East and West Coasts. There’s even fish from New Zealand at the grocery store,” she said.
While global food supply creates more certainty for grocery stores, Yellowknife has a bounty of sustenance in its own backyard that she wants to bring to market, she said.