Merry Solstice, Friends!

21 12 2012

As you know, I’m not so much into the holidays, but Solstice always resonates with our seasonally driven, migratory life. So it was a special treat to start today with one of Lynn Schooler’s stunning Alaskan photographs, captioned with his own appreciative acknowledgement of Winter Solstice. My thanks to Lynn for his permission to share his photo and sentiments with you.

Lynn Schooler, Solstice Whale Dance

Lynn wrote, “There was the fading winter light, with alpenglow on the mountains, and suddenly a fully grown humpback whale burst from the sea toward the sky

Happy solstice, everyone. Let’s celebrate. We made it around the corner and we’re heading back toward spring.

(Of course, you’re always welcome to click ‘share’ on my photos if you like, or if we are not already friends, shoot me a friend request and I will be happy to accept.)”

If you’re not familiar with author/photographer Lynn Schooler’s work, you can start with this review of one of my favorite books. Happy Solstice, friends – my best wishes to you and yours. 





Cap’n J Visits the Oregon Coast

12 11 2012

Almost at National Novel Writing Month’s midpoint, I’m still buried in this month-long exercise to produce as many words as possible. (They say 50,000; I’m shooting for writing every day and being thankful for whatever results. I’m already breaking the “rules” anyway, working on a memoir instead of a novel.) I’ve missed you, and just wanted to pop in to send a little hello, let you know that all’s well here. I hope it’s so for you, too.

While I spent a few days in Sitka at the beginning of this month (an amazing, wonderful, heart-full time), Joel headed off in the opposite direction. He did a photography workshop on one of his favorite places, the Oregon Coast. I’m not able to share many words with you this month, so I’d like to showcase some of Cap’n J’s lovely images instead. Here’s one that seemed appropriate after our recent conversation on what keeps some of us so leashed to the sea.

Enjoy, friends, and be well -

T





FISH 2012: Call for Artists!

19 06 2012

Here’s an exciting opportunity, friends…

The University of Oklahoma School of Art and Art History wants your entries for their Fish 2012 International Art Competition. The theme is “art related to the culture of fishing,” and what that means is wide open to your interpretation. Possibilities include fishing as an economic lifestyle, the process of fishing, work and gender issues, conservation and politics, environmental habitats and sustainability, fishing for subsistence, fisheries collapse, fish quality and safety, and community education.

What artistic medium can you enter? Curator Cedar Marie explained, “Media can be anything; photos, collage, film, poetry/spoken word, sculpture, fiber arts, ceramics, video, mixed media (this can be a combination of materials, any materials that can make an interesting or compelling artwork, including boat parts, fishing gear debris used to make a sculpture, etc! No live or decomposing animals though), performance footage, screen prints or lithos, etc. I once saw a wood sculpture of a fish that had a motion sensor, so when anyone walked by it, it spoke!”

Here are the basics:

Fish 2012 is open to all US/International artists 18 years old and older.

All media is accepted, with a $30 entry fee. (This covers 3 images.)

The entry deadline is September 1, 2012.

The exhibit dates are October 23 – November 7, 2012.

Complete competition information and entry details are here.

There’s powerful talent among Hooked’s readers, and this is a wonderful opportunity to share your gifts and your perspective on this lifestyle. I so hope you consider entering. Thanks for helping to spread the word far and wide among your communities. Now get to creating, and good luck!

Ophelia the Octopus: created entirely of marine debris by Island Trails Network & Kodiak High School. (Photo by Merrill Burden)





Celebrating World Oceans Day with Whales

8 06 2012

Happy World Oceans Day, friends! Wonder what you can do to celebrate and protect the big blue? Ocean rower Roz Savage has answers here. If you aren’t familiar with Roz’s amazing story, do go check her out. The first woman to complete solo rows across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, she writes with the authority of over 500 days alone at sea in a 23-foot rowboat. I haven’t yet read her memoir, Rowing the Atlantic, but it’s on my list.

Over 500 days at sea… What would you learn about yourself with that much time alone – in a depth of “alone” that few of us can imagine? Would you still like the person inside your skin when you stepped back onto shore?

I’m thankful to work alongside my best buddy in our 43-foot floating home. Even so, the long hours, isolation, and stress lead to moments of snarkiness that Cap’n J and I have come to expect. (“What the hell’s your problem today,” one snarls. A glance at the calendar mellows our tempers: “Oh, right. This is Day 10 of our trip.”) By the end of our six months on board, we’re ready for some time apart. I wonder what you do when the person you’re sick of is yourself.

Emotional strain, physical strain. Demands our bodies can’t sustain. The endless expenses just to be ready to go fishing, no guarantee of what the season will bring in return. Living in reliance of things absolutely unreliable. Ever-present threats leering over our shoulders: weather, break-downs, genetically engineered salmon, Pebble Mine, and the constant dread of our industry being shut down.

Real as the challenges are, they’re no match for the rewards of a life at sea. We witness natural wonder, beauty and awe on a daily basis, truly awesome sights that many people go their entire lives dreaming of experiencing. In honor of World Oceans Day, here’s a perfect example, footage of time we spent trolling alongside humpback whales last summer.

What do you do to make a difference for our oceans? Whether you’re fellow ocean-goers or landlocked, thanks for all the ways that you show your love for the blue.

Also, thanks to everyone who’s asked about last week’s North Words Writers Symposium. It was amazing – so much so that I’m having a tough time summarizing such a profound experience. Stay tuned for a post within the next few days.





Mount Edgecumbe Presiding

1 04 2012

The view of our neighborhood, friends:

Mount Edgecumbe Presiding, Joel Brady-Power.

Cap’n J got this one a few evenings ago. Mount Edgecumbe never fails to bring a smile to my face. On April 1st, that smile expands to a chuckle as I remember our volcano’s role in one of the most elaborate hoaxes of all time. Enjoy the story, friends, and enjoy the remainder of your weekend.

Want less story/more info? You can follow @TeleAadsen on Twitter. 





…And It’s On! Sitka’s 2012 Herring Fishery Opens

31 03 2012

When Cap’n J and I walked back to the boat after our pie and coffee, we commented on how different today felt – such a palpable pulse in the air, diesel engines revving as seiners jockeyed through the harbor and steamed out, anticipating that today would be the day. And what a day… Glorious sunshine this morning, blue skies, and flat calm before tomorrow night’s gales. Perfect time for any fishery.

And sure enough, after five days of standing by on two-hour notice, the word came down today. Unable to resist the suspense, I’d spent the morning glued to the Nerka’s VHF radio. At 12:30, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s area management biologist Dave Gordon came on Channel 10 with the words everyone had been waiting for.

“At this time, I’d like to announce that we’ll have a fishery this afternoon at approximately 2:30 pm.” They’d just gotten the most recent test sample results, and with egg maturity ranging from 11-16%, the opening was a go. “It’s a fairly high female count, no spawn-outs and just a couple few immature fish in the mix, so it looks like good fish. Average weight was 170 grams, so it looks like big fish, as well.”

By this time, almost all of the herring fleet had long since steamed out to the grounds. The only boats remaining were the giant steel tenders, the middlemen between fully-loaded seiners and the processing plants, and they didn’t waste any time untying. Even as Dave Gordon continued to explain the boundaries of today’s opening, the procession rolled out.

I ran out to the harbor’s outer-most finger to watch an amazing stream of work boats parade by. One after another, stern to bow to stern, powering through the breakwater to the herring grounds north of town. The harbor sang with new noise, powerful engines roaring to life as their crews whooped out their pent-up tension. Someone blasted an air horn a few times. I watched a couple latecomers run down the dock, boots and raingear in hand, to jump aboard their departing boats.

I spent a long time on that outer float, watching the boats head out and considering my conflicted feelings around this fishery. Ego and excess concern me, the notion of flooding a declining market just because you can. But even with that sense of uneasy disapproval, I couldn’t resist the lure, the excitement of Go Time. One of Cap’n J’s friends referred to Sitka’s herring as “the Superbowl of fishing.” Friends, I don’t give a damn about sports, but I do love fishin’ boats and the men and women who call them home. For that reason alone, this parade was beautiful to me.

I wanted to share that sight with you. For those Hooked readers who are of this industry, I wanted you to have the opportunity to recognize some of your companeros, maybe see a boat whose deck you’d scrubbed in years past. For those land-based readers, I wondered if you could see something beautiful in these images, too, despite their foreign nature.

So I took a bunch of videos that I’m dying to share with you. Maddeningly, the harbor internet appears completely unable to handle the big files. After about an hour of gnashing my teeth, here’s one – not the best, but you get the idea. Maybe something else will work out later.

In another day or so, we should have some far superior images to share. Turns out that Cap’n J’s high school buddy Tanner runs of these tenders and was generous enough to invite him aboard to watch the show live. As many of you know, Cap’n J’s a talented photographer, and he didn’t waste any time grabbing his camera gear. The boat’s taking its load to Petersburg, so I don’t have any idea of when I’ll see my buddy again, but it’s cool – he’ll have some fantastic shots to share whenever he’s back, and I’ll share them with you as soon as I can.

The Dancer heading out, Mt. Edgecumbe looking on.

You can find opening updates on Raven Radio, and JuneauTek always has the best fisheries photos/video. Fishin’ folks, have you got any news from the grounds? Favorite sites for the latest updates? I’d love to hear your observations in the comments. Meanwhile, best wishes for everyone – fishermen, boats, ecosystem – and safe, healthy returns.





Contemplating the Harvest: Sitka’s Herring Fishery

30 03 2012

When Cap’n J and I arrived in Sitka last week, we found the harbor packed with seiners, decks loaded with coiled nets, and the air near-electric. As captains and crew paced the docks, I found it easy to imagine their boats as equally impatient – steel and fiberglass racehorses pawing the water, nostrils flared as they waited for the gate to open.

On standby, waiting to go…

Spring in Sitka means herring. If there’s a Southeast Alaska runner-up to Deadliest Catch’s rock star madness, it’s this – the Herring Sac Roe Fishery. You can follow the frenzy from wherever you are: JuneauTek always provides excellent coverage, and Youtube is plugged with testosterone-drenched videos like this one.  Scenes of combat fishing, engines screaming as boats slam-dance over who’ll set their net in the sweetest spot. With 48 permit-holders and openings that last mere hours, competition is ferocious.

(I’m told that the Coast Guard is putting their foot down this year. Any boats ramming another, they’ve promised, “We’ll shut this thing right down,” like a fed-up parent shouting from the car’s front seat. Sure. But cowboy culture is hard to police. Walking through the harbor, I notice boats necklaced with neon chains of rubber buoys, their bows so thick with inflatable cushioning that the vessel’s name isn’t visible.)

Anticipation further heightens the intensity. On Monday, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game put the fleet on two-hour notice. Biologists take daily test samples of roe, monitoring the eggs’ maturity level. When that level reaches 11%, ADF&G will give the fleet the green light, allowing at least two hours’ notice for everyone to jockey into position before the gun goes off. Management biologist Dave Gordon shares updates on the day’s findings over the VHF radio. Yesterday, he summed up the slow roe development with a call for continued patience. “We will continue to monitor the distribution of fish.”

I don’t have any connection to this fishery, yet even I’m caught up in the excitement, eager to witness an explosive exodus from the harbor. Herring is a Big Deal, and never more so than this year. After last year’s then-record quota of 19,430 tons, ADF&G determined past calculations had underestimated the biomass.  The 2012 quota skyrocketed to a new high: 28,829 tons.

Veteran status in one fishery doesn’t make you knowledgeable in another. With my seasons limited to trolling, longlining, and shrimping, the XtraTufs on my feet and crew license in my wallet are all I share with a herring deckhand’s experience. Trollers drag their hooks around for up to 18 hours a day, striving to catch at least 100 coho, one fish at a time. The longliners I’ve crewed on have fished relatively small quotas – 15,000 pounds of halibut here, 20,000 pounds of black cod there. And my shrimping memories are fond recollections of the mellowest ocean-labor I’ve had. Coming from such comparatively small potato ventures, I found it impossible to conceptualize almost 29,000 tons of herring.

I wasn’t the only one. Jeff Feldpausch, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Resource Protection Director, asked himself what that number really meant. What does 57 million pounds of herring look like?

Imagine a football field… Over 20 feet high.

Imagine the Empire State Building… 77 times as tall.

The Sitka Tribe released a series of ads protesting the quota as excessive, and Jeff spoke with Raven Radio, further explaining the concerns. Herring are what’s known as a keystone forage fish – that is, a vital part of the marine ecosystem. A critical food source for salmon, halibut, and humpback whales, herring are the only forage fish that’s commercially harvested in Alaska.

“What happens if you cut out the bottom of the food chain?” Jeff asked. “Everyone above collapses.”

If herring’s value in the ecosystem is near-priceless, I figured, its economic value must be astronomical. But that’s a tough one to gauge. Virtually all of this fishery’s catch is shipped to Japan, where the sac roe – kazunoko – is a high-end traditional food, a New Year’s delicacy. After much speculation on how last year’s tsunami would impact the market, the wholesale value fell $500/ton, crashing down to $150-$200/ton. This year’s price remains an unknown.

Kazunoko: a Japanese New Year’s delicacy. Photo from www.tastefood.info

Beyond Japan’s ravaged infrastructure, some fear their food culture is changing. Tlingit elder Ray Nielsen believes kazunoko is a declining market. “The young people, they eat at McDonald’s. There’s no money in this anymore. It’s just an ego fishery now. Everyone wants the big sets.”

As I sat at the Backdoor Café considering all this, a friend noticed the Tribe’s flyers on my table. “Propaganda,” she scoffed. “There’s a lot of fish out there.”

Maybe. I hope so. ADF&G points out that the quota is only 20% of the biomass; using the football example, the remaining herring will tower over 80 feet above the field. And as a troller, all of my experience with ADF&G has been positive. I’m impressed with their salmon management, thankful that their strict supervision has contributed to abundant runs and a strong industry. I have no reason to doubt their biologists.

But excess in all forms makes me anxious. A little voice deep within cries, What if we’re wrong?

Art by Ray Troll.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t speak from first-hand knowledge, and regular Hooked readers know I’m sensitive to the notion of “enough.” So what do you think? Wherever folks fall on this issue, it’s one we should consider. Your experiences and observations are welcome here; thanks for keeping it civil.








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