The Launch

10 03 2011

Whenever I tell people that I’m a commercial fisherman, they’re full of questions.

“That’s cool – are you the cook?”

(Sometimes, when I have to be, and much more than just that.)

“Aren’t you awfully small for that work?”

(This is code for ‘Aren’t you awfully female for that work?’ Like every other woman   in commercial fishing, my competence and work ethic speak much louder than any response I can offer.)

And the Number One point of reference response for the past five years: “Oh, you mean like on ‘Deadliest Catch’?”

(No.)

Time and time again, people respond with a craving to understand. Perhaps it’s the cultural shift to be more connected to our food, this eagerness to meet a harvester and learn the process of sea to plate. Maybe it’s the consistent flood of pop culture imagery ensuring that Alaska remains an icon of wildness, an Everest-sized lure for every generation. Possibly it’s the deep-hearted dreams so many people have confessed to me – to cut the urban tethers, turn off the devices promising “connectedness,” to lose themselves in something grand and untouched.  Lose themselves… Or find themselves.

As a lifelong listener who fears monopolizing conversational airtime, I often fail to fully honor this curiosity.  It’s taken me an embarrassing number of years to understand that the privilege of these experiences comes with a responsibility – that is, to share them.

Hooked is intended to share the story of what it is to be a Southeast Alaskan fisherman, a troller/longliner who combs the sea to harvest and share the highest-quality wild salmon, black cod, and halibut.  But fishermen are a diverse bunch, and no one’s perspective is quite the same. My voice as a tree hugging, yoga posing, public radio listening, pierced/tattooed bleeding heart liberal vegetarian, a lapsed social worker turned professional deckhand, is – perhaps – a tad unique.

Some things most everyone in the fleet can agree on.  No matter how many times you see the sun yawning over Mount Fairweather, a pod of humpback whales whooshing their odorous exhalations alongside the boat, or a lake-calm ocean sparkling so blindingly bright on an August afternoon that it makes your heart ache with gratitude… Some things never get old.  There’s no match for the optimistic anticipating of unleashing from the dock and heading out on a new trip, when your dreams are at the helm, nor for the weary satisfaction of returning to town with  fish hold bursting with perfectly-processed salmon, the boat’s Clydesdale-like plod so different from the frisky colt who cantered away from the harbor, bold and adventurous. Getting paid to do this?  Almost all of us agree: A shitty day on the water is still better than any day on land.

In a Carhartt- and Grundens-swathed migration, I head north every spring for an eagerly-awaited homecoming to Sitka.  I’m not alone in this adventure. The F/V Nerka consists of myself, Cap’n J, and Bear the Boat Cat.  Spending weeks at sea on a 43’ boat, in stressful, sleep-deprived situations, is definitely a make-it-or-break-it relationship trial. As we approach our fifth season together, I’m proud that we’ve crafted a successful partnership. Having the most breathtaking office would be enough, but sharing this experience with my best buddy makes it a special privilege.

So please, come on aboard. Get a cup of coffee and settle in for some sea stories – share some of your own, let me know what you’d like to hear more about, and, always, thanks for stopping by.


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19 responses

20 03 2011
Adrienne

Tele, as a lapsing social worker and fellow venturer into new ways of living – I applaud you! I never know how to “tag” my posts. Come follow me over at http://www.bleatingheart10.blogspot.com

20 03 2011
nerkasalmon

Thanks, Adrienne! It’s pretty fascinating to see where life may lead radical social workers, isn’t it? I’m applauding your path, too (especially because your goats, unlike my mom’s, will be enjoying long, delightful goat-y lives.)

20 03 2011
Ross Eliot

I’m glad to see you writing about fishy adventures. That’s been one aspect of my life I haven’t done so with, but I do keep extensive journals while out on the water which will be helpful when when that happens eventually.

21 03 2011
nerkasalmon

Thanks, Ross! I’m so impressed and inspired by your journaling on the boat… I need those accurate memories, but what with the carpal tunnel and the exhaustion, find a total lack of will to get them on paper, Between the fistfuls of halibut gonads we’ll be flinging overboard, I’m going to have lots of questions for you about your blogging expertise!

20 03 2011
Elissa

I love blogging and I love the fishing industry and all things fish. Excited to read.

21 03 2011
nerkasalmon

Aw, Elissa… I’m so pleased to still be in contact with you and read about your life since our evenings at Shelter!

20 03 2011
Donna Aadsen Daniels

Tele – As another Aadsen who is in Alaska, I will anxiously be following your blog. There is a comradery amongst the fishing industry that is hard to explain to those that haven’t had the experience. We live on an island that is a true Aleut fishing village. I’m an office manager for Peter Pan Seafoods and my boyfriend fishes. When I came to Alaska it was going to be a three month venture that has turned into 21 years. And we also are questioned often about “Deadliest Catch”. Although several of the “stars” are friends of ours, it is not a true picture of fishing in Alaska! Best wishes to you and your husband for a bountiful catch this summer. Looking forward to your updates.
Good Fishing – Donna

21 03 2011
nerkasalmon

Donna, it’s lovely to learn more about your life! Sounds like you’ve had quite a journey yourself… Funny, no one seems to come to or remain in Alaska without developing some major saga along the way. I’ve never made it out your way yet, and would love to see such a different piece of Alaska’s landscape. Thanks for your support, and I look forward to hearing more of your own stories. Be well!

20 03 2011
Uncle Jed

Dear Tele,
I am so glad you started your blog! Your Facebook enteries were always intreging (sp?) and so well written. I always wanted to read more. Make sure to include lots of your wonderful pictures. Congratulations again, dear niece, and be safe in all you adventures.

Love, Uncle Jed

21 03 2011
nerkasalmon

Thanks, Uncle Jed! This is a very nervous-making but exciting venture… The kind words kick it more towards “exciting”! I definitely plan to call upon Cap’n J’s photography skills – he’s going to have some assignments this season for blog pictures! Love to you and everyone out there.

21 03 2011
Ken Aadsen

Well Kiddo, your elders knew that it was just a question of when, and not if, that your public voice emerged. Seems so recent that I remember a 7-8 year old scampering around the broad deck of the Askari hawking a rolled up special edition newspaper to your parents, while on a near flat ocean outside of Cape Edgecumbe. A lead story about Johnny the Tiger trainer comes to mind.

It is also with substantial pride that I see you and Cap’n J, both second generation Alaskan fisherpeople, who have honed the art and skill of harvesting troll caught frozen at sea wild salmon into a sustainable lifestyle.

I’ll look forward to reading of your current experiences and observations with the assurance that they’ll likely trigger some of mine that have been deep in my memory bank since I first went to Alaska 47 years ago. Thanks for that! And a special thanks to your mother for being lured to Alaska 36 years ago, to make all of this possible.
Love and affection, Proud Dad

26 03 2011
nerkasalmon

Ah, jeez, Dad… Way to leave the new blogger speechless, over this sudden lump in the throat. Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for providing an abundance of unique life experiences as future writing material.

(As those memories of yours are triggered, consider that you’ve got an open invitation to make guest contributor appearances on Hooked. Or at least share them with your daughter!)

Love,
T

21 03 2011
Betsy

YAY!!!! I am so delighted to follow the words of Tele. Beautiful. Love you tons.

22 03 2011
aurora

I just read your first three blogs and was delightfully impressed. Are u planning to keep posting throughout the season (internet connection permitting ). One of the things that strikes me about your work is how I can sense the connection to your writings from our youth. Not the topic necessarily but your voice. This is the woman’s writing of the girl that was. Does that make sense at all? What I mean is your unique voice is there through all time even though the voice has grown.
Anyhow I love the blog and am duly impressed. Lots of love. Aurora

10 04 2011
Tele

Rora-bell, your comment was an awfully sweet gift to offer, and it absolutely made sense to me. Not many people in my life who know the girl who was or what she tried to say, so it makes me smile to hear this from one who did. And yes, goal is definitely to keep posting through the season. I’m looking forward to having some fresh sea stories to share! xoxo T

27 04 2011
Amyee Peeler

Tele-What a wonderful blog! I stumbled upon it while reading another blog, and I LOVE IT! You have a beautiful gift for writing, keep it up. So many of the posts are familiar to me…from my own childhood trolling with family. Thank you for sharing Tele. I hope things are well with you :)

27 04 2011
Tele

Hello Amy! One of the big treats about this writing experience is receiving the blessing of other fleet folks, when some of my reflections resonate with their own experience, so big thanks on that – I’m delighted you found your way here! Things are indeed well, and I hope the same for you. I still remember – with much appreciation – you and Darcie tossing some tipping work my way during a slow spring!

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