Commercial Fishing

•McKenna Peterson•

XTRATUF | OCT 08, 20

Portrait of McKenna

Fishermen are expert story tellers. The more salty the fisherman, the better the story. A fishing mentor of mine likes to tell a story from ‘way back in the day’ during a particularly terrible Alaska salmon fishing opening. The story goes that two highliner seiners (seining is fishing with one large net that wraps the school of fish) were fishing hard for four days straight on no more than 10 to 20 salmon a haul. For reference, a decent seine haul would be around 1,000 salmon. The crew became tired and irritable, working hard for what seemed to be no reward. Catching very few fish every time the net gets put in the water doesn't amount to anything financially. On the fourth day of fishing, with no improvement in amount of fish being caught, a greenhorn crew member walked into the top house and said to the skipper, "This sucks. I don’t understand. Why are two of the best fishermen in South East Alaska fishing this hard for almost zero fish?" The skipper smiles at the greenhorn and replies, "The answer is in your question."

Commercial Fishing in Alaska

Commercial fishing is competitive. It is difficult. No matter how experienced the fisherman; there is no tried-and-true formula, no fool proof strategy and no guarantee that fish will be caught. An endless number of variables play into the hunt and harvest of wild fish from the ocean. Anything can happen at anytime and the stakes are high in both reward and consequence.
In this game of luck and chance; a fisherman’s best card, his most valuable skill, is resiliency.

Dylan, McKenna Peterson's sister

Summer 2020 was a tough fishing season in South East Alaska. The combination of a poor salmon market, very few fish and constant crappy weather spread an aura of emotional angst throughout the fleet. Being a new, young fisherman I took the situation particularly hard and found myself continuously asking, "why am I doing this?… this doesn't make sense… the cost here is more than the reward…" Having this dialogue on repeat in my head was hindering to my motivation and ability to catch. The old timers, salty as they are, weren't bothering themselves with these questions. They were busy fishing. Coming to this realization changed my attitude as a skipper and allowed myself and my crew to persevere through a sparse summer of salmon fishing.

Hauling nets

A fisherman chooses when and where to set his net in the ocean based on observation and intuition. He never knows exactly what he will catch until the catch is on the deck of the boat. The more times the net is set in the water, the better the odds of catching fish. The ocean is a grueling place to make a living, with every day bringing a new obstacle. The weather can get rough and dangerous. Other fishermen can get in the way. The catch can be meager when the work is endless. With each obstacle comes an opportunity for reward and the reward outweighs the hardship tenfold. Summer 2020 did not have a grand reward… but summer 2021 could hold the winning hand. No one can know. All that we can do is keep moving forward, keep trying, be resilient. When the going gets tough, a fisherman has two options…
The best fishermen keep fishing.