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’?”
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.