SOLDOTNA, Alaska (KTUU) - Although cow leather has a storied history, salmon leather is a bit more of a mystery, and that’s exactly how Soldotna resident Jeffrey Barnhart would like to keep it.
Barnhart said he first began experimenting with leathering salmon skin 17 years ago. Through trial and error, he said it took him years to create a strong and durable product from the flexible, slimy skin.
“Anything you can do wrong, I’ve done wrong,” Barnhart said with a laugh. “It took me over three years to figure it out. I have notebooks of failures. I felt like Thomas Edison.”
Barnhart has a history working at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as well as degrees in fisheries and wildlife that lead him to become the founder of his business Alaska Salmon Leather Company.
“This just fell in line with what I've done my entire life,” said Barnhart.
Barnhart said over the years, he’s reduced his 75 step process down to 35 steps. He doesn’t talk about how he leathers salmon skin, saying his lawyer advised him to keep it as a trade secret rather than a patent so he doesn’t have to reveal his process.
To obtain fish skins, Barnhart contracts with salmon processors, taking what's considered by some companies to be waste, and turning the skins into wallets, coin pouches and even a rifle sling.
“Rather than discarding the skins and throwing them away we get more utilization of the entire fish than just the meat,” said Barnhart.