The Nerka is moored on New Thomsen’s 4th finger, a trek to the ramp that typically takes my short legs a 4 minute march. But the harbor is a different neighborhood than it was a week ago, and Cap’n J and I now incorporate a half-hour buffer – at least – for clearing the conversational gauntlet up the dock.
The harbor pulses with anticipation and anxiety. Local boats have off-loaded their halibut/black cod gear and rigged up for salmon, exchanging skates of groundline for a rainbow palette of spoons (metal lures) and hoochies (plastic squid-like lures of every imaginable color combination). December is 6 months away, yet a repetitive chorus of “Season’s greetings!” rings through the air. At each finger, we exchange hugs and how-was-your-winter updates. It’s a familiar transition back into this culture of seasonal friendships, decades-old relationships that receive only several months a year of real-time face-time. After the pleasantries, each conversation returns to the focus on everyone’s mind right now: “Well, are you all set?”
The Southeast Alaska summer troll season opens for king salmon on Friday, July 1st, and according to Fish & Game’s prediction, we should have 8 to 12 days to catch our quota. The past few days saw trollers from Washington, Oregon and California pulling through the breakwater, one after another. Their fisheries have suffered devastating losses, while Alaska’s waters continue to swell with healthy runs. Meticulously managed, Alaska’s wild salmon stocks support fishing families from all along the West Coast.
Few outsiders imagine the depth of regulation that Alaskan commercial fishermen experience. There will always be those who grouse about state and federal oversight, but this is supervision that I choose to take comfort in, viewing it as a concerted effort to protect our livelihood and honor natural resources. Alaska Trollers Association, our industry advocates since 1925, works closely with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to ensure we’ll make a living today, while taking care that we’ll still be able to do so tomorrow. It’s this effort that gives me a clear(er) conscience, a response for non-fishing friends who express uncertainty about their love of seafood. “I thought salmon were endangered… Is it really okay to eat them?”
(In a word: Yes.)
After Hooked’s last post, my dad remarked upon its theme of gratitude, that it wasn’t a value he’d observed in the fleet 25 years ago. Every generation has had members for whom the role of harvester includes an accompanying sense of stewardship, those determined to keep this lifestyle available to future generations. But I agree there’s been a cultural shift. These days, more of us articulate our pride in feeding people, being responsible for the highest quality food we can produce. Rather than lingering in doom-and-gloom predictions that our industry’s days are numbered, more dockside conversations mull over legislation and advocacy. Our collective consciousness slowly evolves, expands, and sustainability become less the language of Lefties and more an obvious necessity to our profession.
There’s a bottom line most of us can agree on: this is a life we love. As our friend Sean sums up, “I’ll fish until I don’t.” Most of us would rather delay the “until I don’t” for as long as possible.
As I write this, my gaze drifts to the Kettleson Library windows. (My favorite library anywhere, and damn, what a view.) It’s a misty day in Sitka, with a white shroud settled over the water and the kind of rain that doesn’t seem so insistent as it’s falling, but your clothes feel like they’re fresh out of the washing machine by the time you finally make it back to the harbor. A troller just pulled out of Crescent Harbor, heading for their destined hot spot. The exodus has started, the harbors that so recently swelled to capacity thinning out just as quickly.
Us, we’ll get groceries this evening, fill up the water tank, and mosey out of town tomorrow. You can follow our weather here, by clicking on the giant purple section in the middle. I can’t tell you where we’re going… Fishermen are a closed-mouth bunch, and though the same information eventually filters to all of us, we like to pretend that our destinations are a big mystery. One of Hooked’s friends explained his strategy like this:
For the July opener we always follow this exact plan:
We always head south of town, unless we decide to go north,
or we might go deep, or we might leave early, or we might go late,
and (depending upon where we think everyone else is headed)
we might do the opposite of everyone,
unless we decide to follow them and do the same.
And that pretty much sums up trollers. Good luck out there, friends, and stay safe. We’ll check with you on the other side of the opening.