Strong at Sea – The Faces Behind the Fish

For the men and women who work the cold, pristine waters of Alaska, fishing is more than a livelihood—it’s a part of who they are, and often, a tradition that goes back many generations. In Alaska, many walks of life, from fisherman to scientists to processing managers to law enforcement, all work together every day to ensure the health and sustainability of the fisheries, create thriving coastal communities, and produce the highest quality seafood.

This “Strong At Sea” collection celebrates the women fishing Alaska’s waters. Captured on deck during the summer of 2019 in the Copper River and Prince William Sound fishing areas, these female fishermen represent the heart and soul of Alaska’s commercial fleet: hard-working, thoughtful and deeply connected to the ocean that shares their livelihood.

How did you get started fishing?

JC: I’m a fourth generation Petersburg based fisherman, I started with my sisters on my father’s 58-foot seine vessel.

TT: I actually grew up in Portland Oregon with no connection to commercial fishing or the sea. My home life and education were very urban, include college in Los Angeles. I came to work in the summer with friends from college in a salmon cannery in Chignik Alaska. And that was it!

What’s your family’s history in the seafood industry?

KC: My parents arrived in Alaska in the ’80s. My dad crewed for a couple seasons then transitioned to a land career while my siblings and I were younger. He got back into the fishery in the late’ 90s and he, my mom, my three siblings and I were the crew.

TG: My family had no connection to the seafood industry, even though we lived in Soldotna between the Kasilof and Kenai Rivers. Shockingly, no seafood at all was cooked in my house–my parents were very un-Alaskan! It wasn’t until I was 17 and a friend took me on my first boat ride on the Kenai and then another friend took me dipnetting on the Kasilof that I was first exposed to fishing for and eating salmon—and I’ve never looked back. I could eat salmon every day and never tire of it!

What is your favourite fishing memory?

SJ: There are so many special times I have had while fishing. There are always things that happen that are interesting or exciting, like seeing a curious juvenile seal watch me from just 20 feet away, or interacting with giant pacific octopus, or when sea lions (which are like torpedoes underwater), come at me out of nowhere and pull up just a foot from my face.

MD: One day, for our very first set of the opener, we laid out our net in the opposite direction of the other boats around us. We were worried that it was a poor call to orient our net in that way since no one else was doing it. But when we pulled the fish onboard, we discovered that our set was many times the size of the other guys! After that, everyone around us switched directions because they saw how well we did. It was a big win for the Centurion team.

TG: Many of my favourite fishing memories involve my children on my ex-husband’s seine boat the Sound Quest during the ’90s. We had kids stashed everywhere—even under the steering consul, where we had to make a custom cover to protect the switches! Among the many memorable seining days, I remember naked kids in the crow’s nest, iceberg swimming, bonfire roasted oysters, mining for crystals, glass ball hunting, and bays scented in cedar.

What’s your favourite way to prepare and eat the fish you catch?

KM: Fresh fish is amazing when grilled, but I also really enjoy smoking some of the fillets that I save for the wintertime.

JC: I have to pick just one?! I love to BBQ a fresh fillet of salmon in the summer for family and friends, make quick and easy tacos out of whatever halibut cheeks, rockfish, cod or other whitefish from my freezer, make a bowl out of fish and rice and whatever I have in my fridge, or making a quick curry out of any type of whitefish.

SJ: Sea cucumbers are really delicious made into a chowder or dip. The meat is similar to clam meat in that it is sweet and tastes of the ocean. But the best fish ever, is white king salmon grilled with alder wood on the BBQ. I could eat it every day forever and never get tired of it.

TT: Grilled Copper River salmon is hard to match. Lately when I have friends to dinner, I have been baking salmon. The salmon is filleted, pin bones removed, skinned and portioned. The fish is lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper, then covered with an aioli of mayonnaise, garlic and lemon zest. Baked for about 12 minutes at 375 F…oh so delicious.

What do you want seafood consumers to know about fishing in Alaska?

JC: That Alaska has the best fisheries management in the world, and we are proud to provide the highest quality protein on the planet.

SJ: That they are truly supporting small family operations. I know so many boats where a son or daughter fishes with their mom or dad, where a husband and wife team truly make their entire living on the water. They should know that we really do care about the long-term sustainability of the fisheries and that by purchasing wild caught Alaska seafood, they are having a direct impact on real people.

TG: Salmon is a delicious, versatile, and healthy food source. I’d like consumers to know that I care about the product. I am religious about gilling and slush icing in small fish bags (so as not to crush the fish), and my fish holds are insulated. I pick my net while fish are still alive, for optimal bleeding. Many boats now have bleed tanks, which further improves the quality. I deliver often to the tenders to the benefit of the consumer, as well as to get fresh ice and keep my boat light for quick, economic travel.

Why is fishing important to you?

TT: When I am not fishing, my passion for it continues throughout the year with my involvement in both the regional and state seafood marketing associations.

MD: Fishing is important to me because it draws together a unique group of people who are all chasing after a specific lifestyle. It is a little bit risky and requires grit and strength. Fishing doesn’t care about how you look, your past, nor your quirks. As long as you can work hard and be decent to your fellow crew, fishing will welcome you. Even though you’re “trapped” on a boat in the middle of nowhere, fishing makes you feel free to be exactly who you are.

What do you love about Alaska?

KM: Though certain areas of the state are more developed than others, I love that a large majority of the state is still quite remote. The untamed quality here is something I have yet to find anywhere else.

JC: Alaska is a big state with a small-town feel, we take care of each other!

MC: It is huge. You can have whatever adventure you want right here. I also love the small remote villages in Alaska and getting to visit and participate in their traditional lifestyles and ski with the kids in those villages.

KC: I love the spirit of self-sufficiency and the scenery.

And lastly, do you have a fishing philosophy?

JC: Take care of your fish, we are feeding the world.

KC: Stay calm and have fun!

*Photo credit: Ash Adams